Those who oppose a $15 an hour minimum wage, please stand up. If you oppose a hike in the minimum wage because you believe it would cost jobs, remain standing. 

Now, if you you’re still standing, those who never use a self-serve check out aisle at the supermarket or other retailer – you can sit. But those of you who have, even once, remain standing. I suspect that’s most, if not all of you.

How many of you think that these automated checkout aisles aren’t meant to reduce payroll? They certainly don’t make it easier on the shopper, since now you must scan and bag all your items, rather than having a clerk do that.

In a recent visit to Wally World (Walmart), there was only one check aisle with a clerk, and more than a dozen self-checkout aisles. 

The clerk, a woman perhaps in her late 50’s or early 60’s, was efficient, but bitter. She complained how it was her perception that the store was hoping to eliminate all clerks, putting more people on unemployment, welfare, and food stamps.

Business groups, like Chambers of Commerce, oppose increasing the minimum wage, claiming that during the pandemic, small businesses have suffered and can ill afford additional expense. Fair enough, but the proposals for increasing minimum wage don’t call for an immediate jump to $15 an hour, but a gradual one over several years. 

In Rhode Island, the legislature is considering a proposal to raise the current $11.50 an hour minimum wage to $15 an hour, over a four-year period. The National Federation of Independent Businesses says another minimum wage hike would threaten the survival of “businesses hard-hit by the pandemic.” 

A Living Wage, not the minimum wage, covers the average costs to live or cover basic needs. In Rhode Island, according to the World Population Review, the living wage is $53,000. The $11.50 an hour minimum wage in Rhode Island equals $23,920 a year (for a 40 hour a week job, 52 weeks a year). Even $15 an hour would bring the yearly wage to $31,200, well short of a living wage.

In Washington, many are lining up in opposition to the Biden Administration’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 over four years.

For the record, $7.25 an hour equals an annual wage, at 40 hours a week, of $15,080. And, for the record, the federal minimum wage has not been increased in 12 years, the longest period between increases since minimum wage was established by the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.

Minimum wage was first established, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, “to stabilize the post-depression economy and protect the workers in the labor force. The minimum wage was designed to create a minimum standard of living to protect the health and well-being of employees. Others have argued that the primary purpose was to aid the lowest paid of the nation’s working population, those who lacked sufficient bargaining power to secure for themselves a minimum subsistence wage.” 

If the intent was to “create a minimum standard of living,” it has failed miserably, as the gap between minimum and livable wage has increased substantially.

And, for the record, there are 21 states whose minimum wage is $7.25, the same as the federal minimum wage.

It’s time. Not only should we be working toward a $15 an hour minimum wage, but we need to end the debate about further increases by linking the minimum wage to inflation. And we can be creative enough to fashion legislation that continues to protect those businesses threatened by the pandemic.

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Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.