The minimum wage rate in America has fallen behind. There are people in this great country who work full-time, minimum wage jobs and are still living below the federal poverty line. The minimum wage is a creation of Congress through the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, yet this legislation does not have any guidelines or regulations stating when Congress should increase the minimum wage or by how much. The last increase of the federal minimum wage occurred in 2007. Since then, 29 states have taken the initiative and raised their state minimum wage above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Tennessee, however, is not one of these 29 states.
Tennessee is currently ranked as the 41st state in America in terms of poverty with 16.7% of Tennesseans living in poverty. As someone who grew up in Knoxville, I have bared witness to this poverty almost my whole life. Poverty, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult challenges to becoming successful. I remember seeing kids in high school get bullied because they had to wear the exact same clothes to school every day, as they could not afford to buy new clothes. These kids were also malnourished and if our school did not provide free lunches they would not have had anything to eat, perhaps at all that day. Half-starved and in fear of being made fun of, these kids had the hardest time out of anyone in my high school paying attention in class.
These types of circumstances should not exist for anyone. The parents of these kids work just as hard as any other parents, yet they do not make enough to provide a normal life for their family. The worst thing about it was that there is nothing the kid can do to fix it, except maybe drop out of school and get a job. However, the idea that more students will drop out of high school if the minimum wage is increased is absurd. The students that are going to drop out of high school in favor of working full-time are going to do so whether the minimum wage is $7.25, $10, or $15. These are students that are in very specific economic and social situations that need to start earning money no matter how much it is. If anything, raising the minimum wage might help keep kids in school because they can make more money working summer jobs and save up to help out their family.
One way to fix the problem of the minimum wage being worth less and less in terms of real wages is to tie it to inflation. When inflation increases, it causes the price of goods and services to increase, therefore making your wages less valuable at their current rate. If the minimum wage was tied to inflation, it would cause people’s purchasing power to remain the same despite the rise in price of goods and services. However, tying the minimum wage to inflation at its current rate would not fix the problem of minimum wage workers living under the federal poverty line. Before we look at fixing the problem in the long-run, we need to increase the minimum wage to a level that will put more workers above the poverty line right now. Doing so will not only benefit our society but our economy as well. Studies show that when the minimum wage increases, workers are more willing to finance new expenditures through debt, like cars or mortgages, leading to more money exchanging in our markets and more money for banks to invest.
Malcolm Foster is a senior studying political science and can be reached at email@example.com.