Reading arguments for and against raising the Washington state minimum wage of $9.32 per hour makes me think back to my days as a college student in the late 1960s. Back then I was working part-time as a dishwasher in a Seattle restaurant to pay for college tuition at the University of Washington. I made the then-minimum wage of $1.65 per hour. Boy, have things changed since then. But have they changed for the better?
In 1968, one hour of minimum wage work paid for five gallons of gasoline or three fast food meals (burger, fries and drink). Today, although the minimum wage has increased to $9.32, one hour of work pays for only three gallons of gas or two fast food meals. Tuition for one quarter at the University of Washington cost me $105 (64 hours of minimum wage work) in 1968; today it costs $4,133 (443 hours of work). While these comparisons in terms of what the minimum wage will buy are specific to college students, I suspect that they are fairly indicative of how inflation has increased the cost of everything compared to the increase in the minimum wage. Viewed in those terms, $9.32 per hour doesn’t look quite as good.
Today working full-time at a minimum wage job brings in only about $19,000 per year ($1,600 per month before taxes). Few people, whether or not they have a family to support, can survive on this amount. To keep minimum wage families from starving the government steps in and offers free meals in schools and food stamps for families. We taxpayers pay for those programs. And that means that we are subsidizing minimum wage paying companies (McDonalds, Wal-Mart, etc.) so that they can keep their labor costs as low as possible and their profits as high as possible. We taxpayers make that possible. Keep that idea in mind the next time someone tells you that the minimum wage is too high.