Editor's note: Readers had lots to say about the idea of increasing the federal minimum wage. What follows is a selection of some of the letters Tribune columnist Rex Huppke received. Letters have been edited for length and clarity.
One thing no one seems to be talking about is raising the education/skill level of those workers attempting to support themselves in minimum wage jobs. Let's stipulate for a moment that minimum wage jobs are that way because they only require a minimum education and/or few job skills to perform. If the desire is to have workers earning a "living wage" then instead of forcing employers to pay more money for low-skilled work, why not invest in ways to help/encourage those workers to improve their education/skill level which would qualify them for better jobs that pay a better wage?
It seems to me that better education would be more beneficial for both businesses and workers. It would not cause employers to lay off workers as the Congressional Budget Office believes would happen if the minimum wage is increased. It would benefit the workers by increasing their career options, which would in turn make their lives better.
-Pete Constan, Arlington Heights
The CBO study determined that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would increase earnings for 16.5 million low-wage workers. That's 33 times as many workers as would, according to CBO, lose their jobs. This shows that according to CBO's own data, the benefit of raising the minimum wage would far outweigh any projected negative consequences.
As a grassroots community organization, we see firsthand that for the majority of low-income families, the promise of the American Dream is no longer a reality. The majority of new jobs are in low wage sectors and those workers are usually the breadwinners in their family. The poverty that results from a low wage economy is responsible for so many of our communities' problems. When living wage jobs are not available, many people turn to crime to make ends meet. When children do not have enough to eat or a stable place to live, their education suffers. When working families can no longer afford to pay their mortgage, their home goes into foreclosure, which leads to more dangerous vacant buildings. If we want to improve our communities, it is imperative that we raise the minimum wage.
The CBO reports that a raise would lift 900,000 people out of poverty altogether. Raising the minimum wage will put our country back on track toward the revitalization of a strong middle class and restoring the American Dream.
-Gloria Warner, president, Action Now, Chicago
As a predicate, let me stipulate that it is in the best interests of all if workers are properly rewarded for their labor. But, I also aver that employers -- and not the government, union bosses, columnists, bloggers, radio and TV program hosts, and other pundits -- are the best people to set wage and other employment policies. Enlightened employers know that paying talented and responsible people well is good for business.
Apart from the "fairness" argument, some advocate for an increase in the minimum wage because it will help to raise more people or families above current poverty levels. This argument was made prior to earlier increases in the minimum wage—and that didn't work.
The minimum wage is government interference with the laws of supply and demand that should govern employment relationships in our free enterprise capitalistic system. The price of labor should be determined by the availability of talent, the qualifications of that talent, and by how the work of a talent contributes to employers' goals.
-Charles F. Falk, Schaumburg
It's not that the legal wage might be set too high (or too low), it's that there should be no such thing as a minimum wage, because the very idea of a minimum wage is founded on a false assumption.
That false assumption—usually unspoken—is that wages are set arbitrarily by the employer, so all we need to do to have higher wages is to order the stingy bastard to pay more.
In real life, wages are ultimately set by competition between workers to get jobs (which pushes wages down) and competition between employers to get workers (which pushes wages up).
Instead of arguing about just what the minimum wage should be, I'd like to see a discussion of why we need to specify a minimum at all.
-George W. Price, Chicago
Minimum wage is not isolated in the wage hierarchy. That is the problem.
Left alone, employers set wages for employees and groups of employees based on differences in skill, training, experience, etc. Increasing the minimum wage decreases the previous premium that existed for such attributes, in turn necessitating increases in those wages. Otherwise, the incentive for higher skills, training and experience erodes, along with related morale and happiness.
Thus, increasing minimum wage soon enough increases a hierarchy of wages.
With all this said, I am for an increase in the national minimum wage. Something must be done. But isn't it pitiful that wage change has to be legislated, rather than result from a robust economy? Anytime labor is scarce, as in a robust economy, wages go up, a willful decision by thousands of employers rather than government edict.
-Tom Breen, Northbrook
The Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) report about increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 got many things right. The increase would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift 900,000 people out of poverty, 56 percent of whom are women. This is important because two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and two-thirds of women workers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families.
Women earning the minimum wage are doing work we all depend on, such as food service, waiting tables, housekeeping in hotels, retail, and care- giving for children and the elderly. These jobs are not going to disappear. Raising the wage floor is crucial to our families, our economy, and fair competition.
-Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy, Women Employed, Chicago