Robert Reich: How to fix the economy -- step No. 1

The former secretary of labor on the urgent need to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour


Robert Reich
May 11, 2015 12:00AM (UTC)

A basic moral principle that most Americans agree on is no one who works full time should be in poverty, nor should their family.

Yet over time we’ve seen significant growth in the “working poor” – people working full time, sometimes even 60 or more hours each week, but at such low wages that they remain impoverished.

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What to do?

One step is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is winnable. A powerful movement is fighting for $15 an hour and they’re winning new laws in cities and states, and forcing companies to raise wages.

If the minimum wage in 1968 had simply kept up with inflation it would be more than $10 today.  If it also kept up with the added productivity of American workers since then, it would be more than $21 an hour.

Some opponents say minimum wage workers are teenagers seeking some extra pocket money.

Wrong. Half are 35 or older, and many are key breadwinners for their families.

And don’t believe scaremongers who say a $15 minimum will cause employers to cut employment.

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More money in people’s pockets means more demand for goods and services, which means more jobs not fewer jobs.

Studies also show that when the minimum is raised more people are brought into the pool of potential employees, giving employers more choice of whom to hire. This reduces turnover and helps employers save money.

Finally, employers who don’t pay enough to lift their employees out of poverty are indirectly subsidized by the rest of us – who are paying billions each year in food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and welfare, to make up the difference.

The minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour. It’s the least that a decent society should require.

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 15 books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's also co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism."

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