Nineteen states, including New York and California, rang in the New Year with an increase in the minimum wage.
Massachusetts and Washington State now have the highest minimum wages in the country at $11 per hour.
Voters in Arizona, Maine, Colorado and Washington approved wage increases on election day 2016. Seven other states, Alaska, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio and South Dakota, have automatically raised their state’s minimum wage. The other states seeing increases are Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan and Vermont.
Additional increases are slated for later in the year in Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
Workers and labor advocates argue the increases will help low-wage workers now barely making ends meet, but many business owners oppose the higher wages, saying they would lead to higher prices.
The national minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 in 2009.
My wife and I frequent a restaurant in a neighboring town and I thought I’d get a little perspective on working for minimum wage from a cordial waiter working there.
Matt N. is a 29-year-old single man with one child hailing from that central Indiana town. He has one job, waiting tables at that restaurant, but he will take on odd jobs when they come. He works 37 to 38 hours a week, including nights and weekends.
Matt confided in me that he makes only $2.13 an hour with no benefits. That’s no typo. Servers, who rely on tips, are often paid an hourly rate below minimum wage because gratuities are factored in. However, the employee, not the employer, is required to pay taxes on those tips.
When Matt was asked to comment on his current employment situation he had the following to say: “I roll with the punches. In a way, I did this to myself. I didn’t finish school and I have been in a bit of legal trouble in the past. This has hindered me in getting certain jobs I think. I can say this though, as a single father raising a little girl this isn’t what I had in mind as far as a career. It’s merely surviving. I would be lying if I said that organized crime or the mob life didn’t seem appealing at times. But that is a whole other story.
Not finishing college was a bad move, I believe. It certainly wouldn’t have hurt anything to have a degree of some kind. But then I feel that because I have been in some trouble, even having some college seems to have no merit in the eyes of a lot of employers.
Working for minimum wage is a bummer at age 29 from a male’s perspective. The stigma of men and work is something I think about often.”
I have grown fond of Matt since I’ve got to know him. He always garnishes a smile and he’s astoundingly upbeat considering his present stay in life. Some might say he’s a victim of corporate greed, but you would never hear him echo that creed.
No two individuals are dealt the same hand in life. Some may be dealt a winning hand early on, others may be playing to an inside straight, and then again others may just be all in hoping for a miracle. No matter where we are in life it’s fruitless to constantly blame someone else for the circumstances we face. My Mom often says: “Life’s not always a bowl of cherries.” My Grandma, who raised a house full of kids during the Great Depression, never let me forget that when you fall down you dust yourself off and get back in the fight. I can tell Matt’s not a quitter and I admire that.
When I asked him what he’d like to tell my readers he said: “People who work for minimum wage are people too. No matter what they have done to get there. At least they have a job. They are just as much part of the machine as anyone else with a better paying job. We are all in this together. No matter how much this generation thinks it’s every man for himself.”
A day or two before I interviewed Matt I got a fortune cookie with the following saying in it: “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.” My perception of working for minimum wage has been forever altered by a kind soul who took the time to educate me.
Greg Allen’s column, Thinkin’ Out Loud, has been published bi-monthly since 2009. He’s an author, nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Indiana, a non-profit organization aiding the poor. He can be reached at www.builderofthespirit.org or follow him on Twitter @GregAllencolumn.