Rick Bowmer / AP
Thursday, March 26, 2020 | 2 a.m.
Opponents of increasing the national minimum wage should think long and hard about some of the individuals they’ve encountered in the past couple of weeks.
These are people like the grocery staffers who stock shelves, ring up purchases and wipe down shopping carts with disinfectant. Like the restaurant employees who prepare and serve takeout meals. Like the convenience store counter clerks who ring up fuel purchases. Like the employees of retail stores and home improvement outlets who are helping maintain supplies of household necessities. Like the senior care and home care providers who are protecting our loved ones, our friends and our neighbors.
Many of these people are being paid the minimum wage, which at least in Nevada is slightly above the national level.
Yet the national minimum wage lags at a shameful $7.25 per hour, which begs a question for those who don’t think it should be raised: Hasn’t the COVID-19 outbreak proven that these workers are essential to our economy and need to be compensated better?
Let’s be clear, the work being done by these Americans was essential before the spread of novel coronavirus. In far too many cases, consumers just took it for granted.
Not now. The staff at grocery stores, restaurants and the like are among the heroes of this crisis, playing an integral role in keeping American households supplied with food and other necessities.
Granted, some chains set their baseline pay above the minimum wage, such as retail giants Walmart and Costco. Good for them, because offering higher wages helps attract and retain high-quality employees. It also helps the communities they serve by introducing more income into the mix, which in turn drives an increase in consumer spending.
Some cities, including New York and San Francisco, also have raised their minimum wage to $15.
Yet far too many employees across the nation aren’t being paid a livable rate. The $7.25 rate amounts to $1,256 per month, which isn’t even enough to cover the average national apartment rent of $1,468. Adjusted for inflation, the rate should have been raised to $8.71 by now since being established in 2009.
Nevada lawmakers approved an increase last year to $8.25 for employees who aren’t offered benefits, along with a schedule of stepped increases that will be phased in over the next four years. The rate will go to $9 in July on its way to $12 in 2024.
That’s a politically sensitive approach, perhaps, but the timetable is too long and $12 isn’t enough.
Now, Congress should follow by raising the national rate to $15, perhaps using an accelerated version of the gradual method we adopted in Nevada.
An increase would get recycled into the economy by increased consumer spending, which raises all boats. By definition, someone who is earning minimum wage isn’t taking the money out of the market to invest in stocks, etc. They are buying goods and services, and it helps fuel the economy.
Scaremongers will howl over this, but they have been demonstrably wrong at every turn in their arguments to keep the minimum wage down. They claim an increase would force businesses to hire fewer people, raise prices, curtail growth plans and provide fewer ground-floor jobs for young people, among other effects.
But study after study disproves these sky-is-falling hysterics. And keep in mind that when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office conducted a 2014 study on the matter, it found that raising the rate to $10.10 at that time would have increased total wages by 0.003%, about a penny for every $3 spent on salaries.
The workers earning those extra pennies are well worth it. They proved it before COVID-19, and they’re showing it yet again by helping us all get through these difficult times.