The Minimum Wage Debate

Moderated by Rick Badie

The Fight for $15 labor movement has a home in Atlanta. Today, a veteran home-care provider explains why she has joined fast-food workers and other low-wage earners in the fight for a $15 hourly pay rate. A companion essay says a Georgia wage increase to $10.10 an hour, phased in over three years, would boost the state’s economy. The third column is a compilation of comments from observers who say a minimum pay hike would hurt the overall economy.

Choosing between a child and car care

By Marie Mdamu

My son recently turned five. He’s been begging me to take him to Chuck E. Cheese’s to celebrate, but I can’t take him, because this month every penny I have will go to an oil change for the car.

That’s the kind of impossible choice home-care workers and other underpaid workers make regularly. I’ve been a home-care worker he last 25 years. Every day I drive 30 miles to a group home where I care for people with disabilities. I help them shower, dress, walk, eat, cook and do everything else they need to do to live comfortably.

After more than two decades on the job, I make only $10 an hour; I haven’t seen a raise in three years. I barely make it. That $10 simply is nowhere near enough to raise my two children, pay rent, keep the car running and put food on the table.Last month, at a historic Fight for $15 convention at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta home-care workers met with fast-food workers from across the South. We heard about the strikes they’ve waged in places like Atlanta, Raleigh and Memphis over the past two years. We wanted to do something to show we have a similar commitment to winning $15 and a union.

Since we cannot strike in the same way as fast-food workers and wouldn’t want to leave our clients without care, Atlanta home-care workers decided to embark on our own kind of workplace action. We’re going to #Take15for15, embarking on 15-minute one- and two-person protests outside our clients’ homes.

We’re not protesting against our clients. In many cases they will join us. But by taking 15 for $15, we demonstrate our willingness to do whatever it takes to win $15 and a union. A few of us have already taken action and many more joined in across Atlanta on April 15.

We’ll stand with fast-food workers on their strike lines as we know their struggle and ours are the same. We are all underpaid, like too many workers in America. Before I moved to Georgia to care for my elderly parents, I was a member of a home-care workers’ union in Ohio, so I know how much better a union would make life for home-care workers here.

In Georgia, home-care workers don’t have minimum wage or overtime protections. The average wage for home-care workers is $13,000 a year. We don’t get paid sick days. We can be fired at any time. Despite being one of the country’s highest demand, fastest-growing jobs, home care isn’t treated like a real job.

We’re taking care of mothers and fathers. We allow them to stay in their homes as they get older, but we can’t even take care of our own families.

I work full-time as a home-care worker. My husband, bless him, works two or three jobs, also in home care. Together, we’re barely able to put food on the table for our children, much less give them birthday presents. And so my son’s birthday will pass without a celebration.

In February, my daughter’s 16th birthday also passed without a celebration. That’s just how life is for home-care workers and their families.

This year, we have a reason to hope. Home-care workers across the country are joining college students, adjunct professors, fast-food, airport, WalMart and child-care workers to do whatever it takes to win $15 per hour and a union. Workers everywhere are standing together to demand more for those who work hard but don’t make enough to get by. We can see a day in the near future when we don’t have to choose between our kids and our cars.

Marie Mdamu lives in Riverdale and works with clients in Tucker and Marietta.

Better pay will yield better workers

By Wesley Tharpe

Kills jobs. Bad for business. Hurts the economy.

Minimum wage detractors have pushed those arguments for decades and they’re common parlance among some legislators and lobbyists. Those claims are no truer than they were 50 years ago and ignore the economic potential of higher wages.

A modest minimum wage increase could deliver a booster shot to Georgia’s economy and help businesses large and small strengthen a foundation for long-term success. It’s a potential win-win-win for workers, businesses and economic growth.Small and stagnant paychecks are now the norm for far too many Georgians. A typical full-time worker in Georgia took home an estimated $32,220 in 2014, adjusted to today’s dollars. That’s a 12 percent drop from 2009. For a full-time worker in a low-wage job, the typical salary in 2014 was $20,300, down 10 percent from 2009. Both low- and mid-wage Georgia workers make less today in inflation-adjusted dollars than they did in 1997.

So it’s harder for Georgians to reach the middle class and stay there than it used to be. That’s a problem for all Georgians, not just the unlucky few at the bottom. When more and more Georgians are paid less and less, fewer customers can afford life’s necessities or the occasional night out. Georgia businesses struggle. The economy stalls as result.

A reasonable increase in the state’s minimum wage would help arrest the slide in wages and send a positive ripple effect through Georgia’s economy.

An increased minimum wage would put millions of dollars in the pockets of Georgia workers, who would spend that money in local shops and restaurants. It could help Georgia families invest in their future by going back to school or affording better quality child care. And it could boost employee productivity and loyalty, developing better workers and boosting company profits.

Most Georgians today are subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If Georgia phased in a state minimum wage of $10.10 an hour over three years, nearly 1 million Georgians could get a raise, according to estimates provided by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. About one in four Georgia women and one in five Georgia men would get a raise under that scenario. Nearly half of the people who could benefit are in families that make from $20,000 to $60,000 a year. A middle class life is within their reach.

It is clear Georgia families could benefit from such a plan. Many companies could see positive returns as well, perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom. Low- and mid-wage workers tend to pump additional income back into the local economy as they refill on necessities and throw in an occasional splurge.

Another plus for Georgia businesses?

Better pay translates into better workers. Higher wages make workers more productive, loyal and better with customers. A saleswoman who can finally afford decent child care is more able to devote time to customer satisfaction. A cook whose paycheck can cover the cost of night classes is more likely to prepare a consistently high-quality meal. A warehouse worker who can afford a car is more likely to arrive at the job on time.

This helps explain why companies like Gap, IKEA and Walmart are voluntarily raising worker pay above the federal minimum. “Our decision to invest in front-line employees will directly support our business, and is one that we expect to deliver a return many times over,” said former Gap CEO Glenn Murphy.

A higher minimum wage is good for the bottom line of individual businesses and for the economy. It leads to more paying customers, more productive workers and businesses built to compete. It’s a sound strategy to reverse the downward financial trajectory of Georgia families and to chart a better, stronger economic future for the state.

Wesley Tharpe is a senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Min. wage hike: Job creator or crusher?

By Rick Badie

President Barack Obama has called for a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour as a standard for new federal contracts, but fast-food workers and other low-income earners want their pay raised to $15 an hour. Federal law requires most employers in Georgia pay at least $7.25 per hour. Debate regarding the economic consequences of a wage increase continue as does the labor movement’s push for an increase.

Would a minimum wage hike be a job creator or job crusher? Here’s a compilation of observations from opponents who lean toward the latter view.

James Sherk, research fellow at The Heritage Foundation: “The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched an expensive PR campaign calling for wages of at least $15 an hour in the fast-food industry. This Fight for 15 is part of a larger SEIU pressure campaign to unionize fast-food restaurants. Hundreds of union activists have staged “walkouts” and protests across the country demanding the higher pay rate. These protests have attracted considerable media attention. However, if the SEIU achieved its stated goal, it would hurt the budgets of millions of moderate-income Americans. Artificially inflating wages would substantially increase fast-food restaurants’ total costs — labor makes up a considerable portion of their budget. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average cook in a fast-food restaurant earned $9.04 an hour in 2013. The SEIU’s push for $15 an hour would consequently raise fast-food wages by at least 66 percent. Paying $15 an hour would raise fast-food restaurants’ total costs by approximately 15 percent.”

  • Kyle Jackson, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business: “The minimum wage disproportionately hurts smaller employers because smaller employers have less of an ability to absorb cost increases, and this is probably the worst possible time we could be having a discussion about the minimum wage, because most small employers are just now getting back to pre-recession levels in terms of their performance.”
  • In June, the Georgia Restaurant Association released study results that forecast a potential loss of 21,000 jobs, 12,700 held by women, if the federal minimum wage goes to $10.10 an hour. Conducted by Trinity University labor economist David Macpherson, the study found that about 60,562 state and local government employees in Georgia would be in line for raises, with a $10.10 hourly minimum wage. The cost to taxpayers would be more than $164 million annually, benefits included. “Raising wages is an admirable goal,” the study states, “but the evidence suggests that accomplishing this goal with a blunt wage mandate could do more harm than good.”

View Comments 0