People have been talking about the $15 federal minimum wage for a while now. With Biden’s election, it’s a real possibility. Democrats have a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so I’m not making any predictions, but it has a better chance than it did a year ago. So, this seems like a good time for an important reminder: Minimum wage is not the actual issue.
The struggles of poor and working class people have very little to do with the minimum wage. The real issues are harder and more complicated. Here is a list of some of the actual issues:
- Necessities (housing comes to mind) are treated like investments.
- Benefits (from health care and retirement to food stamps) are artificially tied to employment.
- The punishments for legal infractions never end.
- We have the concepts of efficiency and innovation almost completely backwards (I plan on writing a whole essay or two about this, but I’m talking about the fact that technology is not being used to improve lives).
- Even though feminism has accomplished a lot, Pink Collar jobs are still severely undervalued.
There are more, but these are a good start. Raising the minimum wage simply will not do anything for these structural problems.
I’m not pointing this out to say we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage. I’m all for it. I’d go for $20 or $25 an hour. I know I live in an expensive area, but I really can’t survive on less than $20/hour. Just realize that raising the minimum wage by itself won’t do all that much. The way we are set up, businesses have a lot of control over how the effects of a minimum wage increase are felt. Only structural changes can fix that.
I wrote a similar essay about student loan forgiveness. In both cases, student loan forgiveness and minimum wage increases, these are symbolic issues. They look great, and might make some marginal improvements, but don’t really change anything. That’s the way politics has gone in my lifetime. We don’t talk about the underlying problems, that would be boring, we focus on the flashy symbols. You see it in everything from abortion to reparations.
I hope Biden does get us a $15/hour federal minimum wage. But, if he does, please don’t get complacent. Fight for real, structural reform. We have to stop letting them get away with tweaking symbols. We need to demand that they fix the actual problems.