Debate has raged ever since Obama proposed that the minimum wage be increased to $10.10 per hour. According to the Congressional Budget Office this would result in the loss of 500,000 jobs, increasing unemployment and a large number of individuals in poverty. Other sources say increasing the minimum wage will reduce poverty, raising the income of low-salary individuals, reducing their use of food stamps and welfare. In many states, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart workers have protested or gone on strike demanding higher wages. Most recently, hundreds of workers stormed the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois demanding the right to unionize and a $15 per hour wage.
To evaluate this controversy, I have reflected on my own work experience. Right out of high school I would have loved to work for more than $8.25 per hour, but I now realize the benefits of working a minimum wage job are more than the meager source of income.
Minimum wage workers don’t earn much. But by paying them so little, employers can afford to take a chance on workers who would otherwise not be able to get a job, because they lack a degree, connections, or advanced skills. Though minimum wage jobs do not require advanced skills, they give workers an opportunity to learn skills. By learning valuable skills and acquiring work experience, workers are preparing themselves to compete for even better jobs. Once I graduated from high school and found a job to start earning money for college, it was much easier to find a second job, to gain more hours, and acquire better employment with higher wages.
These jobs also provide workers the opportunity to advance within a company. At both of my previous jobs, within 2 to 3 years of working there, hourly workers became assistant and department managers. Many establishments such Target, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King even offer college scholarships to student workers. If I had continued working at these jobs I would have earned an employee scholarship.
While the monetary compensation of a minimum wage job is small, the opportunity for character growth is huge. The most successful workers at minimum wage jobs are the ones who treat their job as if it is their ideal career. They work the most hours, develop one-on-one relationships with their supervisors, and come in when they are not scheduled. They look at their job as an opportunity not only to learn skills but also to develop valuable character traits such as accountability, independence, and reliability. Today’s job market is extremely competitive and demands the most from jobseekers. Particularly for students, a minimum wage job provides a great opportunity to prepare for the challenges they will face searching for their ideal career after graduation. To get ahead one has to be assertive and a minimum wage job provides a chance to do that.
For these reasons minimum wage jobs are of great value to workers, and they should be grateful for them.
While minimum wage jobs are very beneficial to workers, the reason employers hire workers is to profit from their labor. How much a worker is paid should (and would in a free market) be a reflection of their value to their employer. Some workers are better at their jobs than others. If workers are to be paid justly for their labor, more valuable workers should be paid more and lower skilled workers should be paid less. The more you offer as a worker, the more you deserve.
The establishment of the minimum wage by law is thought to ensure that workers receive just compensation for their labor. But workers should not be paid more than they are worth, and yet minimum wage laws mandate that some of them be employed for more than they are worth.
The attitude of many minimum wage workers is that they should be earning more, since the CEOs of their establishments earn so much, while they earn so little. The implication of this attitude is that the value of CEOs is comparatively not much greater than that of its workers. After all, without workers, CEOs wouldn’t be able to run their companies.
And yet, without corporations like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, minimum wage workers wouldn’t have jobs at all. If someone hadn’t created McDonald’s, Burger King, or all the other establishments that employ minimum wage workers, these workers wouldn’t be able to earn an income as easily by working. Stocking groceries and flipping burgers are valuable to other consumers only because companies like McDonald’ s and Wal-Mart have created an infrastructure and distribution network that uses workers’ skills to provide a valuable commodity to customers. Minimum wage workers, therefore, should be grateful to these companies and their CEOs.
The fact that the companies and not their employees make flipping burgers and bagging groceries commercially valuable is the reason that workers can be so easily replaced. In many cases, machines can provide service as effectively as or more effectively than workers. Since machines can provide quality service at lower costs, there is a greater incentive for employers to use them, and many chains are already implementing touch-screen kiosks to replace cashiers.
If they are replaced by machines, workers will not only lose a source of income, but also valuable opportunities. A machine won’t learn anything from working at McDonald’s, but a person can, all while earning money. If you’re ambitious, what you can gain from a minimum wage job is much more than an income. If you take advantage of that, you won’t be stuck working minimum wage for long.
Eventually, jobs such as bagging groceries and taking food orders will be eliminated. These jobs will be replaced the same way farming and factory jobs have been replaced. But instead of being angry about the elimination of these jobs workers should be thankful for the innovators creating new technology. Current minimum wage jobs are the result of technology and innovation. Workers should be grateful that these companies have created these jobs and use them as opportunities to earn more than a minimum wage.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
Subscribe to TU
If you enjoy The Undercurrent, please consider giving a tax-deductible donation in support.