Call for Higher Wages
By AMZAD ALI, age 12
In November 2015, the state of New York became the first to declare a $15 minimum wage for all state employees. Then, not a week into 2016, New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio announced a minimum wage of $15-an-hour for all city government workers. “We know that nothing does more to lift up working families and move our economy forward than raising wages – and the City is leading by example by doing just that for these 50,000 additional New Yorkers,” Mayor de Blasio said in his announcement on January 6.
Some may think that minimum wage jobs are for teenagers or part-time workers who do not require a living wage. However, according to MSNBC, almost 90 percent of minimum wage earners are over 20 years old, and nearly 60 percent work full-time.
As of January 1, 2016, New York’s minimum wage for people who do not work for the city or state, is $9.00 an hour. For such minimum wage workers with children, it is nearly impossible to support a family with one job, some economists say. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Amy Glasmeier, to support a family of four, two adults would have to work two full-time jobs each to survive on minimum wage.
In Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, a $15-an-hour minimum wage is slowly being phased in, following years of pressure from workers and activists. In New York, Fight for $15, an organization led by fast food workers, has spearheaded a movement to demand higher wages since November 2012.
“We are fighting for $15 an hour in order to survive in this city that is very expensive,” salon worker Berta Chacon told the Huffington Post recently at a protest in New York City. Chacon was one of many low-wage workers protesting across the nation on November 10, the same day that the New York Times reported that Governor Cuomo will raise state employees’ minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“If you work full-time,” said Governor Cuomo, “you shouldn’t have to choose between paying the rent and buying food.”
Minimum Wage Has Not Kept Up With Inflation
By CHARLES A. RAMOS BRUGUERAS, age 11
The minimum wage is the lowest amount an employee can earn, by law. It was created in 1938, at the end of the Great Depression, to restore better business practices in the United States.
Though it has risen over the last 78 years, the minimum wage has not kept pace with the rising cost of living, known as inflation. If it had, it would be nearly $18.50, according to a 2015 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
The federal hourly minimum wage is $7.25, but states are free to set their own rates. Five states have no minimum wage law, while Georgia and Wyoming have a minimum wage lower than the federal rate.
Opponents say small businesses won’t be able to hire as many people with a higher minimum wage, and that raising the minimum wage would make prices higher.
Advocates say a wage hike is necessary because some full-time workers earning minimum wage don’t make a living wage, and a higher minimum wage would improve income equality.
Are Tipped Wages Fair?
By BRYANNA SANTOS, age 10
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, the wage for people who work for tips, such as restaurant servers, has been $2.13 since 1991.
One option restaurant owners are considering is to implement a “no-tipping policy.” Instead, the gratuity will be included in menu prices and equally distributed among formerly tipped workers.
“We saw there was a fundamental inequity in our restaurants where the people who worked in the kitchen were paid about half as much as the people who worked with customers in front of the house,” Bob C. Donegan, co-owner and president of Ivar’s seafood restaurant in Seattle, WA, told the New York Times. The restaurant switched to a tip-included menu, raised prices by 21 percent and executed a no-tipping policy.
Some restaurant workers are against a no-tipping policy, preferring the chance to earn more from tips than they would from an hourly wage. The advocacy group Raise the Minimum Wage supports increasing the tipped wage minimum to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage, rather than much lower.
Other tipped workers prefer to have a higher hourly wage and eliminate tipping altogether.
“It’s a little more secure,” Chelsea Krumpler, a waitress at Manos Nouveau in San Francisco, CA, told the New York Times. “Many waiters I know were skeptical of my $25-an-hour wage and no tips. But in fact, I’m earning as much as before with no worries about slow nights.”
Wage Theft: Undocumented workers have little recourse in this injustice
By RIDA ALI, age 11
Wage theft is projected to cost workers more than $50 billion a year, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute. Wage theft happens when employers cheat their workers out of the money they’re owed for their services. Wage theft practices include failure to pay overtime, paying workers under minimum wage or not paying workers at all.
Undocumented workers often don’t pursue justice in their situation because of fear of deportation if attention is drawn to them. Another great difficulty they face is that many don’t speak English, making it hard to communicate with authorities.
A spring 2015 investigation by the NY State Labor Department of 29 New York City nail salons found 116 wage violations. One salon owner tried to justify his workers’ low wages. According to the New York Times, he said, “We run our business our own way to keep our small business surviving.”
Some efforts have been made to protect these workers. In California, employers will now be fined up to $10,000 for retaliating against workers who report them, whether or not the worker is documented.
Glossary of Terms:
Gratuity: A tip given to a server or other worker in addition to the cost of the service.
Inequity: Unfair behavior or policy.
Living wage: A wage that is high enough for a worker to meet their basic needs.
Overtime: Employees are entitled to earn extra pay for time worked over 40 hours in one week.