The fight for a higher minimum wage continued last week as students and other community members gathered at Monroe Park on Wednesday to march, urging to raise the current minimum wage from $7.25 to $15.
Workers across the country are organizing in a campaign to raise the inadequate pay given to minimum wage workers. Their argument is that the salary of minimum wage employees is not sufficient enough to support a family. Their low wage also attributes to workers being much less likely to rise above the poverty level.
Over 200 people arrived for the national day of action. Police halted roadway traffic and patrolled as protesters marched from Monroe Park down to a McDonalds store located on Chamberlayne Avenue. No arrests were made.
“I didn’t realize there were this many people until we started marching,” Bridget Condron said, a sophomore elementary education and psychology major. “People were leaning out their windows and I saw people taking videos.”
Condron and many others present believed the march was successful. She added that the publicity would be beneficial towards gaining momentum for the cause.
“I think it’s really awesome especially to see different fields of work coming too,” said Condron, referring to the many organization that were a part of organizing and marching.
These organizations included, but are not limited to, Students for Social Action VCU, Richmond Food Not Bombs, Virginia Student Power Network, RVA NAACP, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, The Socially Responsible Teachers, The Latina Advocacy Network, Justice RVA, and many more.
A few members and organizers of these groups gave opening speeches at the rally.
“The issue is being underpaid to the point of poverty whether its seven, whether its ten, or whether its twelve [dollars]” said Jason Lambert, a hip hop artist otherwise known as FaceValyou.
Lambert, leader of the organization ‘15 Now Roanoke,’ argues that accounting for inflation, profit growth, and productivity the minimum wage should amount to $21.56. When accounting for inflation alone however, the real value of the minimum wage should be $10.75.
“Almost 50 years ago minimum wage was a $1.60 an hour. Looking at the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator, that is equal to 10.75 today,” said Lambert. “50 years ago the lowest paid workers made 3 dollars an hour more than the lowest paid worker today.”
According to Carol Scotese, the Chair of the Department of Economics, this is in large part due to the fact that the minimum wage stayed stagnant throughout the 80s. Since that time it has been raised only by small increments. Inflation has worn away the real value of the minimum wage. This means the wage is currently, in fact, disproportionately low.
Scotese noted a number of benefits and setbacks that would result in a change of this sort.
“You’ll have a lot more people making more money so that’s good for them. It could also stimulate spending in the economy,” she said. “The downside is that this could increase employers’ costs.”
The increase of employer costs would mean companies or firms may attempt to compensate for the profit loss. According to Scotese, firms could react to these costs in a number of ways. These include providing workers with fewer benefits or even raising prices of the products and passing those costs along to consumers. Alternatively, they could also take the cuts.
Scotese believes that firms are more than likely to cut more workers or find others ways to cut costs. She adds that this is all dependent on the individual firm or location.
A common frustration at the protest on Wednesday was centered on the belief that larger companies have an exceeding amount of profit; this meaning that they wouldn’t need to compensate if the wage were to be raised to 15 dollars.
“It is selfishness that is the route to low wages and poverty. It can easily be changed. The biggest corporations…can easily afford to pay 15 dollars an hour without raising prices” said Lambert leader of ‘15 Now Roanoke.’
Also weighing in on, this Carol Scotese said that “cutting profits may not be that painful, but they still may be unwilling to do it.”
Scotese explained that though raising the wage will help some, it may hurt others. She also noted that there is a very strong sentiment in Republican circles for free market policies. The adoption of this policy would be another regulation, which conflicts with their ideologies. This may be in part why it would be difficult for this to pass as law in Congress.
President Barack Obama has been pushing for congress to pass a bill mandating $10.10 for minimum wage under federal law. Though this is still about 60 cents less than needed to be equivalent to the minimum wage of 50 years ago, it is still having difficulty getting passed.
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, 2015, President Obama said this:
“…And everyone in this congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage I say this…If you truly believe you can work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of America’s hardest working people a raise.”
Though the future of this policy is unclear, it can be certain that the issue of minimum wage will continue to be a pressing one as campaigns and movements such as these continue to make themselves visible. With the new election season approaching quickly, this is sure to be a topic of discussion.