This past summer, I worked at an Amazon fulfillment center. With an “appealing” starting wage of $15 an hour, I forced myself to work 10-hour days beginning at 7 a.m. for four days straight, every week. This was an attempt to make as much money as possible before heading back to college in the fall. I worked with hundreds of workers operating forklifts, box cutters, tape guns and pallet jacks. Though the work takes a toll on your physical health, the $15 hourly wage and the ease of picking up shifts attract many people to the facility. I was just a broke college kid trying to save up some spending cash for the fall, but the majority of the workers were mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers working to make ends meet. The federal minimum wage has remained unchanged for over 10 years at $7.25 an hour, and it is essential that this minimum be increased to $15 an hour.

These blue-collar head-of-households were some of the hardest working and nicest people I have met. Yet, working 40 hours a week at $15 per hour only brings home a bi-weekly check of $1,200. And that’s before taxes. As the cost of living continues to rise and more people cannot afford basic necessities such as housing and food, large trillion-dollar corporations continue to underpay their workers while constantly receiving tax cuts from the federal government. My coworkers at Amazon represent people who were lucky enough to score a “high-paying” job, while many other Americans continue to work for even more substandard wages. 

Our federal government seems to have been heavily founded on the principles of Economics 101such as minimal regulation of the free market and “trickle-down” economic policy in an effort to spur economic growth. This economic theory refers to the idea that reducing taxes on wealthy corporations will stimulate business investment and therefore economic growth. But giving huge tax cuts to these large corporations like Amazon has only made the rich richer and the poor poorer. In fact, when looking at Reagan-era tax cuts for the rich, the real gross domestic product growth rate — a statistic showing how much a nation’s GDP grows from one year to another, as adjusted for inflation — fell to negative levels in 1991, following the end of his presidency. Similarly, following this series of tax cuts, the American working class experienced a decrease in hourly wage following a second round of corporate tax cuts in the 1980s. In that same vein, this trend continues today. Instead of mandating a basic living wage, our government has decided that they work for corporations and their definitions of “economy” instead of their constituents. The rich have never had to worry about facing eviction or where their next meal was going to come from and have instead worried about where to distribute their next tax cut: toward an increased net worth or to neoliberal campaign support. Meanwhile, millions of working-class people have to work long and tiring hours for most of their life just to afford a roof over their heads and food on their table.

The lack of a higher federal minimum wage also negatively affects already marginalized communities. Approximately 42% — almost half of all U.S. workers — make less than $15 an hour. Of the 42%, people of color and women disproportionately hold jobs paying less than a $15 per hour wage. Federally uplifting the poor, especially those who are people of color, will create huge opportunities for upward mobilization — something already proven to be difficult for minorities. Increasing wages will better economic disparities and racial disparities by reducing the disproportionate number of poor people of color. A study done by the Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $15 would affect 38.1% of Black workers and 33.4% of Hispanic workers by creating the opportunity for them to earn raises, compared to approximately 23% of White workers receiving raises.  Thus, this policy can begin to bridge the economic wage gap existing across racial lines.

A federal minimum wage of $15 is not the only thing to be done to diminish economic inequality. Though more states have begun investing in the working class, the federal government has yet enacted a living wage for its working people. Increasing wages to $15 is key to ensuring an affordable living situation and will drive the economy upwards, advancing the welfare of the American people. The strong and hard-working mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers I knew at Amazon were a small representation of working-class Americans. I know that any industry which pays below $15 has the same dedicated individuals who are in deserving need of a raise so that they can finally begin to live a more comfortable life. 

 
 

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