On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R–Fla.) told a young constituent to “get a job” after he voiced his opinion in support of a federal bill that would increase the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. The constituent responded that he did have a job, one that pays $8.50 an hour. Young did not seem to understand or care. This example is just one of many that illuminates the unnecessary partisan undertones in discussions regarding this issue. An increase in the federal minimum wage provides an uncommon opportunity for both parties to come together on a seemingly non-partisan issue, yet this bill is unlikely to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats and Republicans alike must come together to pass the “Catching Up To 1968 Act of 2012” in order to support millions of underpaid workers in the U.S.
In June, House Democrats proposed to increase the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. It’s currently $7.25 an hour. House Democrats argue that the federal minimum wage is below inflation. The minimum wage was highest in 1968 at $1.60 an hour, which today would be roughly $10 an hour. Many House Republicans argue that the market should determine minimum wage and are therefore against passing this bill.
At the very least, the federal minimum wage should keep up with inflation. While Michigan is one of a few states in the U.S. to set its minimum wage higher than the national minimum wage — at $7.40 an hour — this is still too far below what it should be. Here at the University, 70 percent of undergraduate and graduate students receive some form of financial aid, and many of them get a job in college to start paying off their debt. With most of these jobs paying minimum wage, it isn’t feasible for students to start paying off their loans when they might only be making $7.40 an hour. While an increase to $10 an hour is only keeping up with inflation, it will make a huge difference for millions of struggling students.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, 30 million Americans would benefit if the minimum wage was raised to $10 an hour, and these potential beneficiaries range from high school students to the elderly. It’s a huge misconception that only young people supported by their parents are making minimum wage. For many people, this small wage is all they have to support themselves — and for some, their entire family. And, with 30 million people making more money, spending power would be increased and the economy would likely be bolstered. This act has the potential to positively affect a substantial and diverse portion of the American population.
Increasing the minimum wage to keep up with inflation shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But unfortunately for millions of Americans, it is. By raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, students would have the opportunity to pay off their debts quicker, and adults would be able to provide for themselves and their families with greater ease. Leaders in both parties have the rare opportunity to unite on an issue that has the potential to not only help millions of people make a more reasonable amount of money, but also to help the economy. And telling young constituents to “get a job” is not the way to help the situation.