Commentary: Higher minimum wage will help workers and the economy

In the next week or so, Congress will have the opportunity to give 488,000 working Utahns a substantial raise.

The Raise the Wage Act will increase the wage to $15 an hour over the next six years to alleviate the rising economic stress workers are facing. With rising costs of living and flatlining wages, this congressional legislation on behalf of the working class is long overdue.

It’s been nearly 10 years since the minimum wage was last increased. Today the minimum wage is worth 15% less than it was in 2009, meaning that low-income employees now have to work longer hours to reach what we viewed the minimum standard of living 10 years ago. The minimum wage was designed to create a minimum standard of living for workers, but with rising inflation it’s no longer accomplishing that (and we believe that $7.25 per hour even in 2009 did not meet that minimum standard).

Today, there is nowhere in the United States where a person earning the minimum wage can afford a two bedroom apartment. In Utah, working at the minimum wage of $7.25, an employee would have to work 82 hours to afford rent for a modest one bedroom. For economically vulnerable groups (like single mothers and low-income families), attempting to live at this wage level is untenable.

But there is an easy way to fix this: Raise the minimum wage.

For years business leaders and lawmakers preached about the destruction that will be brought down upon our economy if we dare raise the minimum wage. It’s been three years since Arizona raised its wage, two years for Washington and one year for Massachusetts. And yet the business community is still operating robustly, businesses haven’t shut down en masse, restaurants are still serving customers, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

And it’s not just states that are getting behind raising the minimum wage. In the last year, Amazon, Target, CVS, and Walmart (public pressure can bring about positive change!) have all announced higher wages for their employees. Even the company whose low wages spawned the Fight for 15 movement, McDonald’s, halted their lobbying efforts against raising the minimum wage and now supports it.

Former minimum wage adversaries are recognizing that both workers and business benefit from a higher minimum wage. Contrary to what these business used to say, increasing the minimum wage has boosted job growth for small business and retail and hasn’t negatively impacted employment.

Our economy is 70% consumer driven. Increasing the minimum wage puts money directly into the hands of those who need it the most, who will almost immediately invest it back into our economy by paying for essentials like rent, groceries, clothing, and gas, and non-essentials like movie tickets, and the occasional meal at a restaurant. It’s this kind of consumer spending that drives our economy forward. When people have more money, they spend more money. An economy where more people are spending benefits everyone, not just those at the top.

Congress passing the Raise the Wage Act would increase the spending power of millions of Americans and the effects would ripple throughout our economy. When workers aren’t smothered by overwhelming expenses, it is indeed a win-win for all. Investing in our workers is investing in our future. So please call our congressmen — Ben McAdams, (801) 999-9801; John Curtis, (801) 922-5400; Chris Stewart, (801) 364-5550; and Rob Bishop, (801) 625-0107. Let them know how important it is for all of them to vote for the Raise the Wage Act.

Jonathan Ruga | Patriotic Millionaires

Scott Young | Patriotic Millionaires

Jonathan M. Ruga and Scott F. Young are members of the Patriotic Millionaires, a nonprofit group which focuses on promoting public policy solutions that encourage political equality, guarantee a sustaining wage for working Americans and ensure that wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. They are both the co-founders and executive management of Sentry Financial Corporation, Salt Lake City.

Josh Kanter | Alliance for a Better Utah

Josh Kanter is the founder of Alliance for a Better Utah.