Last week, since thousands of fast food workers across the country went on strike for more money, the issue of minimum wage has jumped back into the public debate.
President Obama has stated several times that he'd like to see the federal minimum wage elevated from $7.25 to $9 per hour. The fast food workers who went on strike are asking for $15/hour. And while myself and most others who identify as right or center-right always like to see the government stay out of business, in this situation we simply do not have a choice.
I think I am not alone in believing that anyone who works a full 40-hour week in a "real" job, no matter what it is they do, should be able to at the very least support themselves without requiring government assistance. Right now, assuming no payroll taxes or taxes of any kind are deducted (wishful thinking, I know), a person making $7.25 per hour, who works a full 40-hour week, never misses a day of work, and never gets sick, can look forward to making a whopping $15,080. in a year.
Even in the poorest, and least expensive areas of the country, this will barely get a single person by. In fact, for a family of four with two working parents, the cost of bare-bones living in Simpson County, Mississippi (the place with the lowest cost of living in the country) is $44,617. If both parents are working minimum wage, that family is falling nearly $14,400 short.
The problem is, if these people are able to survive at minimum wage, it's because of welfare and other government benefits. If those benefits were taken away, no one would be able to work at minimum-wage levels, and in theory, after a lost generation of people during the transition, the market would set minimum wage quite a bit higher. You can't have productive employees if they are homeless and hungry. But since we have welfare programs, we effectively subsidize corporations, allowing them to pay their workers less because the workers will still be able to live, even if it's very uncomfortably.
We call it welfare for the poorest people, but in reality, setting minimum wages so low and then relying on social programs to pick up the slack is just another form of corporate welfare. By mandating a higher minimum wage, we ensure that corporations are not profiting from cheap labor on the taxpayers' backs.