Should there be a minimum wage? was last week's question in our weekly Do Now. The issue addresses a few points: should there be one at all? Should the Federal Government raise the current minimum wage. Who would be affected by this? Students responded with insightful comments covering the full spectrum of this issue. Most of them identified how a minimum wage increase could be helpful and/or harmful.
President Obama endorsed the idea in his State of the Union address. He called for increasing the federal minimum wage in stages from $7.25 to $9 by the end of 2015, and then linking further increases to the rising cost of living. Right now for most workers it is set at $7.25, where it has been since 2009. This adds up to $15,080 per year which is just about equal to the poverty level for a family of two.
Read student responses below.
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Should there be a minimum wage? Is it time to raise the federal minimum wage? How might this be a good or bad thing? For whom?
Is it time to raise the federal minimum wage? President Obama endorsed the idea in his State of the Union address. He called for increasing the federal minimum wage in stages from $7.25 to $9 by the end of 2015, and then linking further increases to the rising cost of living. Right now for most workers it is set at $7.25, where it has been since 2009. This adds up to $15,080 per year which is just about equal to the poverty level for a family of two.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 19 states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage above the federal level.
The Lowdown presents the key arguments in favor and against raising the minimum wage.
The arguments in favor:
Since the economy has grown, wealth should be shared…. Full-time workers deserve to earn a living wage and be able to afford basic necessities like food, gas, and health care. It would boost the economy by increasing purchasing power, creating the need for more production and consequently more jobs. This would reduce dependence on social services. It is only fair since corporate profits have grown making the gap between rich and poor wider.
The arguments against:
It would hurt those it intends to help…. Raising the minimum wage would hurt already struggling small businesses by increasing their overall costs. Many American businesses might cut workers’ hours and outsource jobs to countries where labor is significantly cheaper. This would increase the unemployment rate, especially among younger workers.
Teaching about elections is never easy. The whole drama of conventions, ballots and propositions can seem far removed from the everyday issues in students’ lives. It becomes a civics lesson - students reviewing the 2012 candidates, issues and campaign strategies with little sense that this process can involve them.
But listen to the KQED News report by Peter Jon Shuler about students at San Jose State University - In San Jose, Once a Class Project, Now a Major Political Battle (August 27, 2012). This is a whole different approach to teaching about elections.
As Peter Jon Shuler says in his report, “Sociology Professor Scott-Myers Lipton designed the class to help students make the leap from merely thinking and talking about issues to engaging in the political process…………. he hopes all of his students learn that democracy is not a spectator sport and that they really can make a difference.”
In November San Jose voters will decide on Measure D, which started in the social action class at San Jose State University. Students launched a petition on this minimum wage measure to raise wages from $8.00 an hour to $10.00 and spent nearly a year fundraising, and campaigning in their community to gather support.
In five weeks, they collected enough signatures to qualify the measure for San Jose’s November ballot, garnering support from a coalition that includes labor unions and non-profit organizations, like Catholic Charities and United Way. Business groups oppose it, and plan to spend more than a million dollars to defeat it.
It is an inspiring approach to teaching about politics. Measure D was the result of students recognizing a concrete problem - the struggle many students faced trying to live on the minimum rates their employers pay – and working out how to take action.