NEW CASTLE, Pa., Aug. 3, 2015 – At the center of efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in places like New York, D.C. and Seattle is the desire for economic justice.
Not everyone is born with the same privileges or hurdles, but the need for economic justice demands people are rewarded and punished based on personal merit. In a just economy, people are rewarded the most for their efforts that benefits society and punished when their wrongdoings hurt society.
When people see Wall Street executives who have maintained or bolstered their privileged positions after causing untold hardships, they feel a lack of economic justice. Someone born into a low socioeconomic family, who works hard and seeks to do work the world needs, feels the sting of economic injustice.
Not only is a lack of economic justice thoroughly demoralizing on a personal level, it costs society in terms of unrealized opportunities. After all, people work for a paycheck. They work hard, because they take pride in their work and feel they are part of something more important than just a job.
New York is focusing its efforts on fast food workers. Fast food restaurants have embraced an assembly-line business model that has undermined the wages of restaurant workers for decades. Although most fast food jobs are not considered lifelong careers capable of supporting a family, their low-wage business model hinders the creation of living wage restaurant jobs, hence the justice in raising minimum wage for fast food restaurants.
More important, low-wage business models send a critical message to low-wage workers: “you are not worth anything more than what we have to pay you.”
The truth is that New York’s recent decision to raise the minimum wage solely for fast food restaurants across the state is likely a terrible mistake. Not only does it neglect those stuck in the minimum wage trap throughout the rest of the service sector and put a disproportionate burden on fast food corporations that is not shared by other corporations, it distorts the economies of poor communities, which will hurt businesses in those communities that cannot compete by raising their wages and prices.
Minimum wage is not the problem. It is the inability of the majority of people to work their way up to a living wage in a reasonable time frame while having the opportunity through stable, viable finances to grow beyond an entry-level middle class lifestyle.
Consequently, the lesson here is that employees cannot be treated as a business expense. By treating employees as a commodity, employers encouraged their employees to treat their jobs as nothing more than paycheck. In doing so, employees felt compelled to use whatever means necessary, i.e. government intervention, to make their relationship with their employers more equitable and just.
When employers must pay their employees less do to budgetary constraints and financial realities of a low-income industry, they must also offer them social and emotional benefits, so they feel a sense of economic justice.