Though many Americans may still be under the impression that those working minimum wage jobs are just young people in their first job, evidence continues to show that a sizable and increasing portion of the minimum wage workforce are over 40 and staying in the “entry level” jobs for years.
As noted by Five Thirty Eight, the trend towards lower paying jobs began with the decline of the manufacturing base and was amplified by the Great Recession caused by Wall Street.
While wages in the U.S. have been stagnant for decades, corporate trade agreements in the 80s and 90s led to the U.S. manufacturing-based economy being largely replaced by a service-based economy.
Service jobs generally provide less pay and benefits than manufacturing jobs with most minimum-wage jobs being in the service sector of the US economy.
In other words, neoliberal globalization and the 2008 crash led to minimum wage jobs no longer typically being transitional and temporary. For many of today’s workers, a minimum wage job is the only job they will have for some time, and all they have to support themselves and their families outside of public assistance.
Enter the Fight For 15 movement. Given that an increasing number of workers are relying on the minimum wage, and will be doing so for the foreseeable future, those advocating shared prosperity and greater economic security for all have focused on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would make the minimum wage closer to a “living wage”, where workers and their families could maintain a decent standard of living based on the pay they receive from their employers. Currently, many of the multi-billion dollar corporations employing minimum wage workers externalize their costs onto taxpayers by pushing their workers onto welfare at the estimated cost of $7 billion a year.
The old hustle by Big Business and their operatives to counter agitation for wage increases for low wage service work was to claim that these were “rite of passage” jobs for the young and that there was no expectation that people who had these jobs were relying on them to support themselves. Regardless of whether that was ever a legitimate rationale to underpay workers, the evidence now conclusively refutes that profile of a minimum wage worker.
Minimum wage workers need a living wage because those wages are now what they will depend on to live.