Why People Afraid of Raising the Minimum Wage Are Missing the Point

Written by Ilana Strauss

Less work doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Bloomberg recently published acolumnabout how raising the minimum wage is downright “scary.”

“To absorb the higher wage costs, businesses can react in a number of ways,” the article explains. “The response that gets the most attention is to reduce the number of people they hire and employ.”

Indeed, while increasing the minimum wage would increase most people’s salaries, some jobs would disappear. The article points out many companies will likely find ways to automate jobs rather than pay such expensive workers.

But here’s the thing: If our society can produce what people need without employing everybody full time, that’s not necessarily a problem. The problem isn’t less work; it’s bad resource distribution. There’s plenty to go around, there just isn’t a system in place for moving around that plenty.

So instead of fearing automation and unemployment, we could welcome it as long as we found a way to evenly distribute all this newfound efficiency and free time. Perhaps we’re ready for a society where people simply work fewer hours for the same amount of stuff.

Whatever society results from all this new efficiency will need more than simply higher wages. It’ll need higher wages for less work, and that means a shorter workweek. Perhaps we could even afford to get rid of certain industries that don’t do much good for society (telemarketing, for instance). Pruning off the more predatory industries in the economy could save people time and save the environment resources.

Of course, increasing the minimum wage on its own won’t necessarily bring around this new reality. Other policies decreasing the work week, free education to help unemployed workers enter new fields, tax incentives to help small businesses compete, taxing automation may be needed too.

Perhaps Bloomberg’s original title, something like “The fight for $15 push isn’t ready for prime time” judging by the article’s URL, is closer to accurate. Increasing the minimum wage will have repercussions that echo throughout the economy, and it’s not clear politicians pushing the policy have planned for all those effects. Increasing the minimum wage and leaving the rest of the economy unchanged isn’t too much; it’s not enough.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Photo Credit: War on Want/Flickr

34 comments

heather g
heather g26 days ago

I thought everyone called that Greed!

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Kevin B
Kevin B27 days ago

Thank you

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Anne Armstrong
Anne Armstrong28 days ago

The minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation...... that's reason enough to raise it. If you can't stay in business without paying your workers so little that they are eligible for Food Stamps and Housing vouchers, you shouldn't be in business. That's how capitalism works isn't it? The government shouldn't be subsidizing your payroll. When people start making more than they need just to survive, they'll spend it, and businesses will get more business to make up for it. It's not an experiment. Many cities and states have raised theirs, and not become unemployment wastelands.

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee29 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Danuta W
Danuta W29 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Julie W
Julie W29 days ago

$15 an hour is not a high wage. It won't make anyone rich!

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H29 days ago

This article misses many points, imho. Fewer work hours - no benefits...if you are lucky enough to work at a place that gives them. SMALLER companies which is what they are claiming to promote can't afford to pay on that rate thus have fewer people, fewer hours and running their buns off to get the job done that requires more employees. Costs go up, prices go up, sales go down. Corporations, sure, they can handle the strain. Not so sure the economy is ready for that jump. On first glance, it sounds great tho.

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Alea C
Alea C29 days ago

Large corporations have gotten away with paying their workers a pittance far too long, and $15 won't even make a dent in corporate profits. The 1% will still own us.

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Greta L
Greta Labout a month ago

thanks very much

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Heather B
Heather Babout a month ago

what scares politicians and businesses is the loss of profit and power. A living wage with decent benefits and retirement is not an outrageous request. No one is saying pay people for doing nothing. No one is saying stoop progress and efficiency. Technological progress leads to different oopportunity. From development of authomobiles to assembly lines to computers none has caused a devestation of the economy. However poverty and lack of education and training will. Fair wage for honest work is not unreasonable. People arent asking for a handout, just honest compensation. Irfonic when ousted sex offender moguls land with golden parachutes and when greedy corporate boards send jobs overseas where substandard conditions and pennies an hour are the rule that investing in good people in this country is apparently anathema. Corporations like to tout their charitable causes but frankly save you donations and treat the people here fairly. What is legal is not necessarily moral. I would suggest the people who are so "scared" read up on the French revolution. Injustice and inequality can only fester so long.

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