Higher wages help the economy (and make life better)

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In building on the momentum of last week’s fast food worker strikes in NYC  and amid growing protests by low wage workers across America–yesterday thousands of low wage workers, including airport workers, grocery store workers and fast food workers–came together with established unions to march for higher wages.

After the launch of last week’s Fast Food Forward Campaign*, approximately 125, 000 people have signed on through various sites to stand with the fast food workers of NYC that are demanding higher wages. But will this tremendous show of solidarity and the demands of these courageous workers fall on deaf ears?

In the face of these growing protests–CEO’s have yet to acknowledge or respond to the cries from their workers. 

Furthermore, it’s hard to convince the American public that low wage workers should actually be paid more. There isn’t exactly a public narrative that supports the idea that if you pay poor people more money, this helps the economy. Instead, many are focused on the idea that if you work hard, you can make it financially. And as follows, many believe if you make low wages, you probably deserve them.

McDonald’s itself has an entire section on their website under “careers” where they claim even the CEO got his start serving fries. That’s great and I’m sure made sense in 1964, but what I’ve learned from talking to workers in the last few weeks is that on $7.25 per hour you can’t even cover your rent, bills and food, let alone go to school to get the education you need to move forward in your career.

Don’t believe me? Meet Josh and Chyna–two fast food heros who went on strike to demand higher wages and a union.

These are responsible people, working full time, paying their bills, supporting their families and many can’t even afford to live in an apartment, instead living in shelters! While CEO’s of fast food companies make record profits–workers’ salaries have not raised proportionately. In the face of an unstable economy, great job loss and most people buried under mountains of debt, it seems awkward and difficult to imagine how raised wages would actually help the economy.

But here are three reasons raised wages will help the economy:

1. Raised wages means less government assistance–Most of these workers are so poor they have to be on public assistance to get by–this hurts the city, state and country’s economic stability. Less poverty means less government subsidies for families, which helps the economy.

2. Higher wages means more people buy things–Economics 101 (can’t say it’s my favorite) but it’s true, more money earned is more money spent and more money spent is more jobs and so on and so forth.

3. If the minimum wage goes up, so do other wages–not only starting to balance the unbelievable imbalance between the rich and the poor in the US, but the growing divide between the middle class and the rich. (insert endless stats about the 1% and the 99% here).

It’s going to take a lot to build consensus on this issue and to push CEO’s to actually raise wages. It’s going to take putting these workers’ stories at the forefront and to organize effectively to get low wage workers the wages they deserve. But there is hope–with the growing momentum across the nation and world around wages, work, and the economy, we may be setting the stage we need to succeed.

*If you’ve noticed I’ve been more scarce than usual, it’s because I’ve been working on the Fast Food Forward online campaign. Also, don’t forget to sign the petition to stand with fast food workers! 

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