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Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do

By Star Hesse
February 3, 2016

The argument against raising the minimum wage (in a letter to the editor on page 6 of the January 28 River Reporter) is so fraught with false presumptions that it is hard to know where to start in refuting them. The writer, whom I venture to say has never had to support himself or find employment, brands all people working in low-wage jobs as generally uneducated and unskilled, and deserving no better than the low pay they get.

He seems to think that people in entry-level, low-paying jobs take these positions as a career path to higher earnings. The writer directs these low-income workers, instead of relying on their minimum wage paychecks to pay their bills, to go out, get an education and then get a “real job that will get them the money they need.”

In her book “Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America,” author Barbara Ehrenreich found that people do not take less than minimum wage jobs because they are uneducated or unskilled, or because they think that these jobs present a career path to higher earnings. They take these dead-end, low-wage jobs because this is the only work available. Often these jobs involve exhausting physical and mental effort, and one is required to work two or three of them just to barely make ends meet. If you can’t secure basic life needs with three jobs, how can you pay your living expenses while you go back to school? And take a look at all the college graduates and laid-off skilled workers who can’t find work and have to fall back on their parents or social assistance for support.

Raising the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour is the only way to break the low-wage death spiral, where you can’t make enough to get ahead or raise yourself out of bone crushing poverty. Society has evolved beyond the old social dogma that said being poor is God’s punishment for the unworthy. Paying a living wage is a start to giving people the tools they need to raise themselves out of poverty, and move on to a more prosperous existence. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do, and is long overdue.

[Star D. Hesse is a resident of Narrowsburg, NY.]