One of the reasons that Bernie Sanders was so popular in 2016 and continues to be popular today is that he incessantly promised voters a host of handouts in the event that he was elected. Two of these absurd promises were offering free college tuition for most students and the other was a pledge to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Today, we’d like to address the second of these outrageous campaign promises. First, let’s consider that the current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour—mandated by the federal government. So, Senator Sanders and his followers are seeking to increase the federal minimum wage by over 100%. This big of an incremental increase has never happened. Typically, the federal minimum wage increases every few years by 10-20%. It takes around 15 years to double. In 1961, it was $1 per hour. Thirteen years later, it reached $2 an hour. Seventeen years later, in 1991, it finally surpassed $4. Keeping with the trend, it should have hit $8 an hour around the time Obama was inaugurated in 2009. In 2009, Obama signed into law an increase to $7.25 an hour which has remained stagnant for the past eight years. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush each raised the minimum wage twice during their tenure. Each Bush Administration saw a net increase of 27% to the minimum wage. President Clinton raised it by 21% in his eight years. President Obama, who campaigned as a champion of the working class, raised the federal minimum wage by only 11%. This is the man who infamously said “I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody”. However, had he simply continued the almost linear pattern set by the previous three presidents, he could have very easily raised minimum wage to over $8. Since the last two GOP presidents raised the minimum wage over 25% each, President Trump would be projected to raise it to over $10 by the end of his administration. We would be looking at a $15 minimum wage around 2026. Despite President Obama leaving the minimum wage static for over seven years (a span only surpassed by President Reagan), 2026 seems like a relatively reasonable timeline to hike the federal minimum to that level.
Enter Bernie and the #Fightfor15 crowd. Their message is easier to empathize with: every member of our society who works full time deserves to have a livable wage and good standard of living. However, who determines what is a livable wage and how can it be established? As it stands, it is exceptionally rare for low-wage workers to work full time to begin with. Thanks to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s so-called “Fair Labor Standards Act”, tens of millions of hourly workers are prohibited from being scheduled even close to 40 hours a week, as every minute they work past 40 hours in a week, their employers are legally obligated to pay them 150% of their normal hourly rate. Personally, I think most low wage workers would rather have the opportunity to work 45 to 50 hours at their normal hourly rate than have to work 35 hours a week or less at near-minimum wage. Many progressives argue that class mobility has stagnated over the past few decades. The argument is that it is becoming impossible to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” because higher education has become so expensive and yet so crucial to attaining higher-paying jobs. Simultaneously, those low-wage earners are being prohibited, through the collusion of unions and the government, from working extra hours to dig themselves out of poverty. I know I'd rather work 45-hour weeks at $10 an hour than be stuck only working 32-hour weeks at $10 an hour because my employer is afraid an extra shift might put me too close to that 40-hour barrier. I've heard a leftist argue that working beyond 40 hours in a week can take a toll on the body and actually be dangerous, but most researchers draw the threshold at 50 hours a week before demonstrable damage is done. One of my best friends is an immigrant who came to America ready to work hard to achieve some very impressive and lofty goals. I have known him for three years and he has always worked more than 70 hours a week since I met him. He travelled halfway around the world in pursuit of the American Dream and is one of the most inspirational people I know. His dedication calls to mind the words of Mohammed Ali: “suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
I won't get into the economics of the minimum wage. I've seen numerous businesses fail because of the rising cost of labor, and we can look at the numbers of major corporations to demonstrate that doubling the minimum wage would cripple a number of industries. Progressives' response will undoubtedly be that if these corporations can't afford to pay their workers a “living wage,” they can't afford to be in business. But I imagine most workers would prefer to have a job making $9 an hour than have no job at all. A $15-per-hour minimum wage would put our lowest earners (the ones who aren't laid off) above the median income of workers in over 150 countries. Indeed, currently, the median income in the United States is only about $15 per hour. It is profoundly misguided and arrogant to campaign for a $15 minimum wage. I can sympathize with the small fraction of our society making $8 an hour or less. My first job that I had nine years ago paid only $8 an hour. I would recommend that people earning so little do one of three things. First: be exceptional. If you do a great job making $8 an hour, you are likely to get a raise or promotion, or even be offered a better paying job elsewhere. Second: get a second job. Two years ago, I was fed up making so little that I obtained a second job, and then a third. If one job can only schedule you 30 hours or less, why not have two jobs that each give you 25 hours a week? Then rather than making a paltry $240 a week, you'll be up to $400 a week. Third: if you're compelled, lobby your state legislature to raise the minimum wage to something reasonable. Many state legislatures have raised the minimum wage to over $10 an hour. If your state hasn't followed suit, try to change things. If #fightfor15 became #fightfor10, I guarantee you that in the next two years, the federal minimum wage would be $10 an hour. But progressives are some greedy folks, and they want a massive wealth redistribution yesterday. Lastly, consider the fact that roughly 30% of our paycheck isn't even ours—as it goes directly back to state, local, and federal government through our taxes. If you really want more money, why don't you campaign for lower government spending and lower taxation, so you can keep more of the money that you're already making?