Minimum Wage, Major Worries

This morning’s Washington Post takes the unusual–in the paper’s home town–step of exploring how a particular public policy affects real people.

The front-page article “Life at $7.25 an Hour” begins and ends as a profile of Robert Iles, a cheerful- and cherubic-looking 22-year-old who works as a clerk at Wow Only $1, an Atchison, Kansas, retail store catering to low-wage workers just like Mr. Iles, who earns $7.25 per hour, lives in a trailer with his disabled father and caregiver mother, and drives a 2005 Dodge Neon for a monthly loan payment of $313.13.

But in the middle, the story is a cautionary tale of the tangled web of trouble that the proposed minimum wage hike, from $5.15 to 7.25 per hour, would weave for hard-working people.

Hard-working people like Jack Bower, owner of Wow Only $1, who supports raising the federally mandated wage floor, but expects such an increase to force him to cut the hours of his workers. Workers like pregnant 22-year-old Christina Lux. Or 57-year-old Susan Irons, who was infected with hepatitis C from a blood transfusion and is on a waiting list for a liver transplant. Or 66-year-old Neil Simpson, who works six hours a day as a stockman, then cleans floors elsewhere for another five, and cares for his blind, arthritic wife.

Hard-working people like Michelle Henry, manager of Always Low Prices, where Mr. Iles shops for cheap chimichangas. “If the minimum wage went up, I don’t know how we would make the cuts to cover it,” she says.

Hard-working people like Shannon Wilk, who works the register at Always Low Prices for $6.25 per hour and would love to make more money but has a concern. “I live in income-based housing, and if I get a raise, my rent would go up, and I would lose my assistance,” she explains.

Hard-working people like convenience store owner Bill Murphy, who has one question for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Where does she think the money will come from?” Mr. Murphy says that he has no marginal hours to cut at his two stores. “I’m going to have to raise my prices,” he says. Prices paid by low-wage workers like gasoline customer Robert Iles.

Hard-working people like Country Mart owner Dennis Garrett, who already has to pay the high-school students working at his grocery store $5.15 an hour, even though “some of them aren’t worth that.”

These are the people who will be hurt by the proposed minimum wage hike. Their concerns reflect the myriad secondary consequences that frequently follow the ill-considered, feel-good federal meddling that benefits no one except demagogues. And they highlight why “Life at $7.25 an Hour” may soon be a whole lot harder.

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1 thought on “Minimum Wage, Major Worries

  1. Dear Leslie,

    I am grateful to The Washington Post for running this article, but I want to thank you for highlighting the article and for adding analysis that helped me better understand the complex interactions involved in economic policy decisions and how those decisions affect the daily lives of people.

    Respectfully yours,
    Bryan Atchison

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