A Starting Wage Is No Place to Start

To the Editor:

This is in response to the May 29 letter by Norman Legge, “Make It A ‘Starting Wage’.” Mr. Legge advocates a lower minimum wage because, as he writes, “A starting wage is paid to people coming into the workforce for the first time or returning to the work force after an extended absence.” He bases his proposal upon that premise, and it simply isn’t true. The average minimum wage worker today no longer matches that caricature.

Nationally, women aged 25 and over constitute one-third of all minimum-wage workers. For instance, it was determined that the average worker who would have been affected by the Obama Administration’s effort to raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour was responsible for half of his/her family income. It was money meant to help pay the mortgage, and to put food on the table, and to pay medical expenses. It’s not about workers learning “soft skills” as Mr. Legge describes them. While one-third were unmarried and childless, 27% were married, with the remaining 29% living as single parents.

I suggest we think in terms of creating a “living” wage for people. Mr. Legge feels that is “too subjective for serious extended discussions because lifestyles, by choice or by circumstance, come into play.” A “living wage” is based on the amount an individual needs to earn to cover the basic costs of living (rent, transportation, food, medical, clothing). It has nothing to do with living an “extravagant lifestyle” as Mr. Legge believes. Individuals wouldn’t determine the wage, so it wouldn’t be subject to such abuse. He is correct when he writes that “Location, rural or urban will influence what constitutes a living wage.” Those are some of the benchmarks used in determining living wages, similar to benchmarks used to determine minimum wages on the state level. It’s an inexact science, but it’s a science, and it’s a more humane way to support our brethren.

Jeffrey Reel

St. Johnsbury, Vermont

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