When I was a kid my dad broke his back. My mom, who prior to his injury was focused on raising my brother and I, had to go back to work. She got a job working for the minimum wage, which at the time was $3.35 an hour – equivalent to $7.25 an hour in today’s dollars.
Thirty years later the federal minimum wage is actually $7.25 an hour. At the state level California and Massachusetts are projected to have minimum wages of $10.00 an hour in 2016. Multiple cities, including New York, Seattle, and San Francisco havemuch higher minimum wages.
Surviving on the minimum wage is incredibly hard. My mom would go to work in the morning, covering what was McDonald’s new breakfast shift. She always came home smelling like hash browns, until she got a second job sorting and delivering newspapers.
After that she smelled like hash browns and newspaper ink, her fingers always stained black.
During those years we lived in a house my grandmother owned, a tent, a trailer that we got a good deal on because the prior owner had committed suicide in it, and a house that was so dilapidated my family lived, cooked, and ate in one room – and ceded the rest to the bats.
No matter what you read, the debate around the minimum wage is not just about teenagers and their first jobs. In fact, according to the Department of Labor, 2.8 million minimum wage earners are single working parents.
Which is exactly why the idea of doubling the minimum wage should be approached with caution.
Much of the debate around the minimum wage has centered on fast food workers, which is what my mom was when she earned $3.35 an hour. And, as little money as that was, it was desperately needed. But as I got older I felt it was unfair that she worked hard while McDonald’s got rich and we learned 20 different ways to cook with government cheese.
The minimum wage was too low, and I wrote my college thesis on raising it.
Then, years later, I started consulting with a trade association comprised of small and mid-sized plastics manufacturers. Before I visited my first factory I had an image in my mind of people on assembly lines – picking things up, putting things down, and working to keep the line moving.
In my image of a factory there were people everywhere.
That is not what most modern factories look like.
The level of automation in a modern factory is extremely sophisticated. I once visited a very rural factory that basically ran at night and on the weekend with no staff, using the plant manager’s iPad.
The robots used to run that factory were long ago deemed cheaper, more efficient, and more predictable than the humans who used to populate the factory.
Which makes me think of my mom 30 years ago – a good person in a tough spot who desperately needed the job she had. Then, I think of a mandatory doubling of her income. Then I think of the ability to order your food via a kiosk or an iPad, which is already in place or being tested at multiple fast food restaurants.
Then I think of two kids who needed their mom to smell like hash browns and ink in order to survive, and how doubling the minimum wage might end up hurting the very people we need to help.
@ DUSTIN MCKISSEN