The right to survive


I guess I’m going to have to say some things that should be obvious.

It is 2021. The U.S. minimum wage should be $26 per hour.[1]

Even in most of the cheapest states, a single person needs over $27,000 per year to survive.[2] A minimum wage, based on that amount, would likely be at least $13 per hour. It is $7.25 where state or local jurisdictions haven’t made it higher.[3] It does not cover the rent in any state.[4] Some workers, misclassified as “independent contractors,” don’t even get that, even in places like California.[5]

Democrats refused to raise the minimum wage earlier this year.[6]

I’m really not interested in the excuses for this state of affairs. Because they all essentially reduce to a claim that human beings are not worth what it costs them to live, that insofar as the market is concerned, these workers do not deserve to exist.

But what happens when workers hold out for more money and decent working conditions? Now, all of a sudden, we have a “labor shortage.”[7] Which is to say these workers are needed after all. Which is to say that they do deserve to exist.


Fig. 1. Video of Kyrstin Sinema voting no on raising the minimum wage. Bloomberg, via YouTube, March 5, 2021, fair use.

They just don’t deserve to survive.

This dissonance does not live merely within your head. Because however we rationalize a sub-living wage, what we are saying is that those rationalizations outweigh a basic right to survive.

  1. [1]Dean Baker, “The $26 an Hour Minimum Wage,” Center for Economic Policy and Research, August 19, 2021, https://cepr.net/the-26-an-hour-minimum-wage/
  2. [2]Francisco Velasquez, “How much money a single person needs to earn to get by in every U.S. state,” CNBC, August 25, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/17/income-a-single-person-needs-to-get-by-in-every-us-state.html
  3. [3]Department of Labor, “Minimum Wage,” n.d., https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/wages/minimumwage
  4. [4]Anna Bahney, “Minimum wage workers can’t afford rent anywhere in America,” CNN, July 15, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/15/homes/rent-affordability-minimum-wage/index.html; Kate Gibson, “Minimum wage doesn’t cover the rent anywhere in the U.S.,” CBS News, June 14, 2018, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/minimum-wage-doesnt-cover-the-rent-anywhere-in-the-u-s/
  5. [5]Sam Levin, “Uber drivers often make below minimum wage, report finds,” Guardian, March 5, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/01/uber-lyft-driver-wages-median-report; Alexa Noel, “Revised MIT Study Says Uber, Lyft Drivers Make About $8 or $10 per Hour,” Points Guy, March 8, 2018, https://thepointsguy.com/2018/03/revised-mit-study-says-uber-lyft-drivers-make-about-8-or-10-per-hour/; Jeong Park, “Fact check: Will Uber, Lyft drivers get paid less than minimum wage under Proposition 22?” Sacramento Bee, September 24, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/article245931545.html
  6. [6]Burgess Everett, “8 Democrats defect on $15 minimum wage hike,” Politico, March 5, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/05/democrats-15-minimum-wage-hike-473875
  7. [7]Abha Bhattarai, “Retail workers are quitting at record rates for higher-paying work: ‘My life isn’t worth a dead-end job,’” Washington Post, June 21, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/06/21/retail-workers-quitting-jobs/; Sarah Chaney Cambon and Danny Dougherty, “States That Cut Unemployment Benefits Saw Limited Impact on Job Growth,” Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/states-that-cut-unemployment-benefits-saw-limited-impact-on-job-growth-11630488601; Fiona Greig et al., “When unemployment insurance benefits are rolled back: Impacts on job finding and the recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program,” J.P. Morgan Chase and Company Institute, July 2021, https://www.jpmorganchase.com/content/dam/jpmc/jpmorgan-chase-and-co/institute/pdf/when-unemployment-insurance-benefits-are-rolled-back-research-brief.pdf; Jenn Ladd, “‘This is a real job’: Philly’s restaurant workers dissect the labor shortage, and contemplate a different future,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2021, https://www.inquirer.com/news/labor-shortage-pandemic-workers-restaurants-philadelphia-hiring-20210710.html; Eric Levitz, “Letting the Economy Create Jobs for Everyone Is (Sadly) Radical,” New York, June 4, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/06/biden-full-employment-policy-labor-shortage-inflation.html; Heather Long, “It’s not a ‘labor shortage.’ It’s a great reassessment of work in America,” Washington Post, May 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/; Heather Long, “‘The pay is absolute crap’: Child-care workers are quitting rapidly, a red flag for the economy,” Washington Post, September 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/19/childcare-workers-quit/; Heather Long, Alyssa Fowers, and Andrew Van Dam, “Why America has 8.4 million unemployed when there are 10 million job openings,” Washington Post, September 4, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/04/ten-million-job-openings-labor-shortage/; Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, “States that cut unemployment early aren’t seeing a hiring boom, but who gets hired is changing,” Washington Post, July 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/07/27/unemployment-insurance-go-away/; Bryan Mena, “Unfilled Job Openings Outnumber Unemployed Americans Seeking Work,” Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/unfilled-job-openings-outnumber-unemployed-americans-seeking-work-11628531130; Anna North, “The death of the job,” Vox, August 24, 2021, https://www.vox.com/22621892/jobs-work-pandemic-covid-great-resignation-2021; Matt Petras, “In the continuing pandemic, businesses need workers, but are jobs meeting the needs of residents?” Public Source, August 12, 2021, https://www.publicsource.org/pittsburgh-workforce-covid-unemployment-hiring-worker-shortage/; Eli Rosenberg, “These businesses found a way around the worker shortage: Raising wages to $15 an hour or more,” Washington Post, June 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/06/10/worker-shortage-raising-wages/; Eli Rosenberg, Abha Bhattarai, and Andrew Van Dam, “A record number of workers are quitting their jobs, empowered by new leverage,” Washington Post, October 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/12/jolts-workers-quitting-august-pandemic/; Jon Schwarz, “The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries,” Intercept, May 7, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/05/07/worker-shortage-slavery-capitalism/; Alina Selyukh, “Low Pay, No Benefits, Rude Customers: Restaurant Workers Quit At Record Rate,” National Public Radio, July 20, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/07/20/1016081936/low-pay-no-benefits-rude-customers-restaurant-workers-quit-at-record-rate; Derek Thompson, “The Great Resignation Is Accelerating,” Atlantic, October 15, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/great-resignation-accelerating/620382/

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