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zDaunte Jeter The . Even with this modest rise in income, the minimum wage today does not provide for a decent standard of living. It has failed to keep pace with the wage growth of an average American worker. The minimum wage was intended provide a minimum standard of living; to aid in alleviating poverty and reward one for their work, however, in today’s economy, it fails to live up to these modest goal. Despite the fact that many adults and their families included depend on these wages to make ends meet there exists stiff opposition to any proposed and necessary increases (Shierholz, 2009). The debate over the minimum wage dates back to over seventy years ago. Most people today do not realize the horrendous conditions early American workers were forced to endure just too survive. Imagine for a moment, a world in which men and women, even young children, are forced to work sixty hours or more a week, six days a week, with no breaks during the workday. Adding insult to injury, the backbreaking work they are made to endure only pays mere pennies. Sometimes these workers are not even paid in cash. Sometimes in lieu of this pittance, they are paid in scrip, which may be used to make purchases at a company store only. These meager wages they receive would not be considered a suitable living wage by most standards, a wage that may adequately meet such basic needs as shelter, food and medical care (America Press, 2006). Too often, the working conditions they are exposed to are hazardous and would be considered unhealthy and dangerous to work in. They do not have benefit of protection or rights as employees. Businesses justify these conditions in the name of freedom; their freedom of course (Schlosser, 2008). It would appear that the bottom line is more important than the safety and well being of those who help them achieve profitability. This scenario is not mere fantasy but a reality for many in the early ninetieth century, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Oftentimes, industries and businesses rebuffed any government involvement in their daily activities. They regularly exerted their power, fighting for autonomy in regulating their own practices, and more times than not, were successful. Employees had no bargaining power and were regularly exploited, forced to take any job they could in order to survive (Levin-Waldman, 2009). It was not until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938, a landmark piece of legislation, that they were afforded any bargaining power at all. This act, in Roosevelt’s words, was designed to put ‘a floor below wages and a ceiling over hours’ (Shierholz, 2009) by establishing a federal minimum wage; twenty five cents at that time. Not much by today’s standards but for workers then, it was actually more than most were being paid. The federal minimum wage provided certain protections in the labor market by guaranteeing one could not receive any wage less than that. Additionally, it established a regular work week at forty hours, provided requirements for overtime pay, and prohibited most child labor. For the first time, the American worker was afforded a basic set of rights (Schlosser, 2008). Initially, passage of the FLSA was met with stiff opposition by members of both the Republican and Democratic parties in government, members of Congress and leaders of industry even though the bill had overwhelming public support (Schlosser, 2008). In President Roosevelt’s words, the act had one primary goal; to provide a ‘fair days pay for a fair days work’ (2008). It set out to establish labor standards essential for the well being and health of all workers (Shierholz, 2009). This cannot be considered a radical objective, providing certain protections for the working man; rather one might think of it as a noble goal. Why then, was the idea of a minimum wage met with such fierce opposition? At the time most cried it would hurt businesses, others resented government interference. When issue with the minimum wage comes up for debate today, arguments against it often mirror those of the past. Those who oppose argue that it will actually hurt small businesses and increase unemployment among these unskilled workers. They argue that demand for the unskilled workers who occupy these minimum wage positions will decrease simply because they are more expensive to hire (Mulder, 2008). Furthermore, small businesses will be forced to reduce the employees number of hours or their position all together because of this expense. They contend that their profitability may be negatively affected and prices for their goods and services will need to increase ultimately impacting consumers. Finally, they state that the minimum wage workers earnings are rarely the only income, but rather a second or third household income, and raising minimum wage for them will do little to impact the poverty levels of the household overall (2008). Conversely, supporters of raising the minimum wage view it as a useful tool in reducing poverty. Furthermore, they see it as an effective way to raise living standards for low income workers and their families (Stevans & Sessions, 2001). Research to date offers no conclusive results as to the real impact a raise in the wage can have. Often their findings are contradictory at best. However, increasing the minimum wage can have a positive impact. For example, it may attract higher quality employees, job turnover may be reduced with a higher wage; the worker may feel more appreciated and valued by the company improving working morale, which, in turn, increases productivity. It may also benefit the economy overall as well. More money in the pocket means more to spend elsewhere (Shierholz, 2009). Over 22.9 million people would be impacted by an increase in minimum wage, most of whom make a significant contribution to their household’s total income (2009). Many of those who would be affected are older, at least 20 and up. Benefits of an increase would be felt disproportionately by women and minorities. Even those not directly affected would benefit, such as the children of these workers who would feel the benefits of at least one parent’s raise (2009). Increases to the minimum wage therefore, would not affect only a small proportion of people. Rather, it would positively impact the lives of many. ConclusionResearch into the effects that a raise in the minimum wage has on poverty thus far has been inconclusive; yielding mixed results. These findings have the capability of influencing those in government but instead leave them in an untenable position, unsure how to proceed. Those that oppose believe raising minimum wage will lead to declines in employment and reduced benefits. Advocates argue that it can be a powerful tool in the fight against poverty (Stevans & Sessions, 2001). I am in support of raising the minimum wage though I do not agree that, on its own, it is a ‘powerful tool in combating poverty’. I believe the focus of current research on only those in poverty is too narrow a population to study. It should not merely be concerned with only the poor but rather it should be expanded to encompass a larger population. Broadening the population affected may generate increased support and public interest into the issue (Levin-Waldman & Whalen, 2007). I believe a multifactor approach may be more useful in the poverty battle. For instance, set the minimum wage at half the average pay of production and non-supervisory workers. Thereafter, the minimum wage should be indexed, or adjusted with, that average wage, ensuring that its value is maintained in the overall wage structure (Shierholz, 2009). This should also occur in combination with increasing child care subsidies, expanding access to health insurance (Danziger & Wang, 2005), subsidizing higher education (Stevans & Sessions, 2001), expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to include childless workers in addition to the low income workers with families; improving the educational experience for low income students, making college more accessible and affordable and finally, providing training opportunities to increase ones skill set, knowledge and experience to better prepare them for the future (Danziger & Ratner, 2010). Raising minimum wage alone may not be the solution to reducing poverty levels. However, that does not mean we should abandon the idea all together. Perhaps this multifactor approach would prove to be more effective and have the intended result of helping the working poor in addition to so many others dependent upon a minimum wage.