Raising the minimum wage is long overdue

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Ishaan Nandwani, Contributing Writer

As a college student, I spend a lot of money every week. In addition to tuition expenses, I’m spending on food, rent and utilities, textbooks, the occasional Starbucks splurge and more. I’m grateful to attend VCU on an academic scholarship and have parental support because otherwise, such a lifestyle would not be sustainable.

Unfortunately, that reality is not possible for many college students, especially those who have to pay for college and living expenses while working minimum wage jobs. Additionally, there are countless single parents and struggling families who solely rely on hourly wages that are simply insufficient to live off of.

The federal minimum wage, which sits at $7.25, has not been raised since July 2009 — more than a decade ago. Although many states and localities have amended this minimum, it has taken  Virginia far too long.

The Virginia General Assembly approved a measure last year to increase the commonwealth’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour beginning May 1, to $11 on Jan. 1, 2022, and to $12 on Jan. 1, 2023. 

While the raise is appreciated, it feels like a major amount of damage has already been done.

According to the bill, our minimum wage won’t reach $15 until 2025. Of course, I understand it seems impossible to jump to nearly doubling the minimum wage. However, the pure neglect of human well-being is clear. Why it has taken so long to finally pay people a living wage is beyond me. 

It must be noted that this raise does not apply to the federal minimum wage. Although Virginians may finally receive the bare minimum they deserve, many Americans will continue to struggle.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 has been an integral part of left-wing ideologists’ campaigns through the past decade. Politicians like Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders strive for economic justice for the most vulnerable Americans.

President Joe Biden’s administration introduced legislation just this past week to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass in the Senate, with a 54-46 vote in support of the act, six votes under the required 60 to pass the legislation.

This is simply unacceptable. According to journalist Ari Berman, 67% of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage, but a group of Republican Senators that represent just 21% of the population have the ability to deny such an increase.

Now more than ever, times are truly perilous for millions of Americans who’ve seen their livelihoods turned upside down by the pandemic. Although the government has begun to offer stimulus checks and established social support programs during this time, the long-term negative effects of not being paid an hourly living wage are undeniable.

A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that raising the minimum wage is correlated with a decrease in suicide rates. From 1999 to 2015, a $2 increase in the minimum wage of each state may have prevented 57,000 suicides, according to the study. These trends were especially apparent during periods of high unemployment, such as now.

The study argues that lower-wage workers deal with a poorer lifestyle due to their financial shortcomings. These same shortcomings cause negative effects on their well-being, unfortunately causing a correlation between the amount of minimum wage and suicide rates.

On the flip side, those who oppose an increase in the federal minimum wage cite the COVID-19 pandemic as the primary reason to hold off on such a measure. 

“A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

It’s true that many small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to lay off employees to keep their stores alive. But instead of using these businesses as a justification for preventing an increase in the minimum wage, the government should do more to support them and their workers through said increase.

As college students, we’ve all worked a minimum wage job some time in our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves frustrated with the low pay we receive in these jobs. We are unable to purchase those new shoes we wanted or grab a bite with friends. However, there are some who make just as much you do, struggling to feed their families.

There is little evidence that increasing the minimum wage would stunt economic growth; rather, by allowing workers to lead dignified lives, this will stimulate the economy. Ultimately, this issue comes down to protecting hard working Americans who have been abused by the system for too long. The answer is clear.

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