By Saba Long
The federal minimum wage debate is taking place in editorial boards, gold-domed capitols and boardrooms across America. Raise it to lift people out of poverty, some say. Others argue an increase will cripple job growth.
The waters of truth are murky in this hyper-partisan climate, making it difficult to determine the credibility of economic forecasts footed by various chambers of commerce and policy.
Rather than framing the minimum wage debate in terms of to increase or not, the conversation deserves a pivot. There is no doubt many goods cost more today than just a few years – from a few pennies to a few dollars, including motor fuel, a milk jug and a trip to your local movie theatre.
According to Pew Research Center, since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 5.8 percent of its purchasing power to inflation.
During his 2012 presidential bid, Republican candidate Mitt Romney – who, for some, is the epitome of corporate streamlining – argued the need to automatically adjust the federal minimum wage for inflation, although he later waffled on this issue after pressure from the far right – including Rush Limbaugh.
The real question is: what quality of life ought a minimum wage earner experience, and at what cost to his employer and the general public?
Equally important to ask is what resources are available to further their earning potential?
These resources include access to education, skills training and personal financial management assistance. And these are not areas the government needs to control but rather it should facilitate and allow civic partners to address.
In his State of the State address earlier this month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam introduced a plan to use reserves from the state’s lottery to fund community and technical college for high school seniors.
While it would not apply to working adults, this opportunity will be particularly meaningful for students likely raised in low-income households with no clear path to pay for higher education. For the Tennessean 18-year-old working his or her way through technical school, a modest bump in pay will allow him or her to come out even further ahead upon graduation.
To be sure, we know there will always be low-income wage earners (including those uninterested in career advancement); someone has to fulfill the role of the cashier, the stockroom worker, and the house cleaner.
However, this debate should allow for an exchange that looks past the day an employee receives a bump in pay but how they create and build opportunities for societal progression.