Imagine working 40 hours a week and only having a budget of $17 a day. After taxes, housing, utilities, car payments, credit card bills and childcare expenses are paid, this is the budget of a minimum wage worker who is currently paid $8.05 an hour in Florida. Strikes are happening in Sarasota and across the country as fast-food cooks and cashiers demand a $15 minimum wage.
On Nov. 10, local activists joined a rally of 500 protests nationwide as they marched outside of Sarasota’s City Hall in the Fight for $15 demonstration. Since 2009, the unemployment rate has gone down and job opportunities have increased, indicating signs of an improving economy. However, for many working Americans, average pay has seen major decreases, specifically for minimum wage workers.
“Generally we just want to support a living wage for everybody,” second-year Nathan Burnaman said at Tuesday’s protest. “We want to uplift the working class and have a redistribution of wealth that is better for everybody involved in the system.”
The Employment Policies Institute, which is backed by the restaurant industry, had another thing to say about the Fight for $15 organization. Releasing a full-page ad in the New York Post, it highlighted results from a survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. It concluded that three-fourths of economists say a $15 minimum wage would create fewer jobs and make it harder for younger people to obtain these jobs.
“[Fight for $15] has been successful in many places already all over the country and we are very encouraged by that,” said Arlene Sweeting, Peace, Education and Action Center executive director, and director of the protest. “We see New York and San Francisco and Seattle and Chicago and these big cities making moves. We think it’s time for Florida to join them.”
Congress last changed the federal minimum wage in 2009. Since its change, 29 states and Washington D.C. have permitted minimum wages above $7.25, while other state laws push for $8 or $9 an hour. However, cities including San Francisco and Seattle have gone much further and are on their way to achieving a $15 an hour minimum wage.
For years, President Obama has pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, but Congress, predominantly run by Republicans, has been vehemently against the idea.
Now, within a year of the next presidential election, candidates are keeping an eye on their party’s positions and aligning themselves with them. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both tweeted their support in the fight for $15.
In alignment with Congress, most Republican candidates have clearly demonstrated their opposition to federal involvement in increased wages.
In an interview with MSNBC’s program Morning Joe, Republican candidate Donald Trump was asked if he supported a higher minimum wage.
“It’s such a nasty question,” he said. “Because the answer has to be nasty.”
Trump backed his opposition by arguing that the United States must compete with other low-wage earning countries. Thus, according to Trump, having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for the United States.
Contrarily, in an interview with CNBC last spring, the GOP’s current frontrunner, Ben Carson, admitted he believes the minimum wage should be higher than it currently is.
The National Employment Law Project conducted a recent poll of workers paid less than $15 an hour. The poll concluded that 69 percent of unregistered voters would register to vote if there was a candidate who supported a $15 an hour minimum wage and a union for restaurant workers. Furthermore, 65 percent of registered voters paid less than $15 an hour would be more likely to vote in the next election if a candidate supported $15 an hour and a union. Lastly, 76 percent of underpaid workers represented in the survey pledged to vote for candidates who support a $15 minimum wage and a union.
Within the next year, the Fight for $15 organization intends to involve this dormant voter group by getting them engaged with issues of higher pay, union rights, enhanced child and home care, racial justice and immigration reform. These topics outline the main issues recognized by underpaid workers and will thus determine their voter turnout.