Pros and Cons of Raising the Minimum Wage

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Since 1938, when the minimum wage was first introduced (at a rate of $0.25 an hour), the federal minimum wage has increased 22 times. The minimum wage is the salary floor, or the lowest possible rate that employers can pay employees.

The most recent update to the federal minimum wage was in 2009, when it was raised to $7.25 an hour. Note that 29 states have a higher minimum wage than the federal rate.

When the state and federal minimum wage are different amounts, employees are entitled to the higher rate of the two. 

Whether or not the federal minimum wage should be raised again — and if so, to what hourly rate — is the topic of considerable debate and controversy.   

Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised?

Opponents believe that increases to the minimum wage will place a burden on employers, especially small companies, resulting in slower growth and decreased levels of employment. Proponents of an increase in the rate say that the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation and that many minimum wage workers are impoverished.  

People on both sides of the issue point to economic studies and data to back up their viewpoint. Many Americans, however, have already made up their minds on the issue: A 2015 CBS/New York Times survey found that 71 percent of Americans favored an increase to the minimum wage.

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage.

Why the Minimum Wage Should Be Raised

  • An increase in the minimum wage raises the standard of living for impoverished workers.
  • The minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation. As a result, the pay of many workers, particularly those with families of three or more people, are now well below the poverty level.
  • Studies show graduated increases in the minimum wage have a low impact on unemployment.
  • Additional income would be spent by consumers and would ripple through the economy if overall budgets for salary grew under a gradual increase in the minimum wage scenario.
  • Increasing the minimum wage could help reduce gender- and race-based income inequality. 
  • Government expenses for social programs aimed at the poor would potentially be reduced. This might result in slightly lower taxes for other Americans.
  • Slightly more revenue for the government would be generated from payroll taxes for social security. 

Why the Minimum Wage Should Not be Raised

  • In companies with a fixed compensation budget, an increase to the minimum wage could result in layoffs. 
  • Employers might hire fewer workers in the entry level jobs needed to begin a career. 
  • An increase to the minimum wage would provides an incentive for employers to invest in automated processes, technology, and machinery to increase productivity rather than human resources.
  • Raises the incentive for companies to outsource labor to countries where minimum wage rates are lower. 
  • A higher minimum wage could result in an increase of the high school drop out rate.  
  • Prices might be increased to offset higher labor costs.
  • For small companies, already stressed owner/operators might take on more responsibility.
  • Wages for higher paid workers might be suppressed, and salary increases might be lower for those not impacted by a higher minimum wage.

State and Local Initiatives to Raise Minimum Wage

Even though the federal minimum wage hasn't increased since 2009, the majority of states have a higher minimum wage than required by the federal government. In addition, some local municipalities have initiated minimum wage increases for their location. For instance, San Francisco's minimum wage is higher than the state of California's minimum wage. (And, in turn, California's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage).  

In 2017, the minimum wage increased in 21 states.

The highest state minimum wage is $11/hour, in Massachusetts and Washington. Many cities also increased the minimum wage rate as well — it's $15/hour in Seattle, Washington, and $13 in Sunnyvale, California, for instance. The largest wage hike, by percentage, is in Arizona, where the minimum wage increased to $10 from $8.05. Here's more information on the federal and state minimum wage rates for 2017