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In the wake of the November 10 fast food protests, it’s worth revisiting an article from last month that takes an unusual approach to the minimum wage issue. It’s written by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and illustrates a surprising strain of elitism among advocates of the Fight for $15 movement.
Reich concedes that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour may risk job losses, but argues that it is “worth it” if a “strong moral case” can be made for such a wage. He then goes on to compare wages below $15 an hour with child labor and tragic workplace deaths in the early 1900’s. Some readers may find it illogical to equate children laboring in a textile factory, or the unsafe job conditions of the pre-World War I era with working in today’s offices, retail outlets, and restaurants, but there’s more.
Government banned child labor and sweatshops because the public, as Reich notes, found them morally objectionable. By extension, he asserts, government should also outlaw jobs that pay less than $15 an hour because they “offend our sense of decency” and simply “aren’t worth keeping.”
Millions of Americans work at jobs that pay less than $15 an hour, and do so for a variety of reasons. While certainly everyone would like to earn more money, it is doubtful that anyone would want his or her job eliminated because the rate of pay offends the sensibilities of political activists.
Setting the minimum wage has always been a balancing act for elected officials in Congress, state legislatures, and even city councils. At least they can be held to account if they decide some of their constituents’ jobs “aren’t worth keeping.”