Minimum wage debate must also consider economic advancement

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.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

1 reply
  1. Jay Driver says:

    You might want to consider framing the debate in terms of the words in it s title: economic advancement. Check the NY Times story that shows Atlanta as fourth from the bottom of 50 large cities in terms of upward mobility. Add the following quote and then make your case. 
    The bottom fifth in the U.S. looks very different from the bottom fifth in other countries,” said Scott Winship, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, who wrote the for National Review. “Poor Americans have to work their way up from a lower floor.”Report


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