Wages should be livable


By Boswell Hutson

Today, it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation about the United States’ minimum wage without flaring up some sort of tension.

Those who favor business and profit seem to think raising the minimum wage would lead to a rise in costs of manufacturing and would be detrimental to the economy, while others tend to argue for the millions of minimum wage workers across the country who can’t live off of their pay. This contentious issue isn’t eased by the time of year, with politicians’ chatter and attack ads both focusing on the topic.

In fact, both of Illinois’ Governor candidates have been especially intent on mentioning alteration’s to Illinois’ $8.25 per hour minimum wage, with Pat Quinn calling for a raise to $10 an hour and Bruce Rauner calling for a reduction in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.

At first, I was not surprised — Rauner, a venture capitalist CEO, thinks the minimum wage is too high. What a shock — next they’ll tell me the Pope is Catholic. But upon thorough examination, lowering the minimum wage seems like the furthest thing from helpful.

What is so striking about the argument to lower the minimum wage is that even at its current level, the minimum wage in Illinois isn’t a living wage throughout the state.

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The living wage, as calculated by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the amount of money required to meet minimum standards of living. Thus, it is not merely a flat number across the country but varies accounting for food expenditures, health care costs and transportation, among other things.

Cost of living also varies across Illinois’ counties, with some being much more expensive than others, and, more times than not, the minimum wage is not enough to live off of.

Here in Champaign County, for example, the living wage for one adult sits firmly at $8.30 an hour — just five cents above the state-wide minimum wage of $8.25. While this seems reasonable, Champaign County is also one of the more affordable places to live in the country.

In Chicago, the living wage for one person jumps to $10.48 an hour. In New York City, the living wage is $12.75 where the minimum wage is $8.00 an hour.

These figures are startling. This means that a worker who is employed at a full-time job at minimum wage in these expensive areas can’t make enough money to adequately live off of, instead requiring them to turn to government welfare programs or work extreme amounts of overtime.

What’s even more frightening, is that once a child is added in the equation, living wage nearly doubles, soaring further out of reach for those who lack beneficial educational opportunities or have other limitations.

I’m not an economist, and I’m sure a fast spike in minimum wage would certainly change the way a lot of businesses operate, but, as Americans we need to realize that, at the risk of sounding like a bleeding-heart liberal, people are more important than profit.

Bottom line: Everyone who works a standard, full-time job should be able to earn enough to live off of.

I don’t mean to seem ridiculously patriotic, but there is no excuse for this when we live in the United States of America, arguably the most developed country in the world. The economy is ripe with problems outside of my personal realm of understanding, but the fact that someone can work 40 hours a week at a job making minimum wage and then still can’t live off of the money is a problem for another era.

In a country that prides itself in its strong workforce and its status as a global leader, the fact that the minimum wage does not translate to a living wage for so many citizens is a travesty. All workers should be entitled to living, regardless of the circumstances they have encountered along the way.

We, as Americans, can no longer accept a minimum wage below the living wage as a societal norm, because even if we don’t rely on those minimum wage jobs, millions of people do, and they deserve just as much of an opportunity at life as me, you or anyone else.

I’ll be going to the polls this Tuesday just like thousands of voters all over the state, but what I will be sure to remember is that at a time when so many Americans are struggling to get by on minimum wage, Mr. Rauner and his ideas on wage cuts couldn’t be more out-of-touch.

Workers don’t need their wages cut right now — they need the opposite. They need to be able to live off of a minimum wage — anything else is shameful.

Boswell is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].