The fight for an acceptable minimum wage is just beginning
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In 340 cities across the United States, Uber drivers led strikes on Tuesday in an effort to make the case for a higher minimum wage. Led by Fight For $15, the advocacy group aiming to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, Uber drivers idled in airports and blocked intersections, leading to arrests and 27 citations in Oakland alone. As independent contractors, Uber drivers are expected to cover car expenses, heath insurance, and highway tolls on their own, taking a significant paycheck cut in the process.
Uber drivers join workers in the fast food, airport, and childcare industries in the fight to secure living wages. Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 per hour, making it impossible for workers to save money, let alone cover basic expenses like rent, food, and utilities. There has been strong corporate resistance to this movement, with McDonald’s vowing to replace restaurant workers with touch-screen self-service kiosks as a result. Former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi went as far as to say this change is a direct consequence of Fight For $15’s victories, writing in an article for Forbes,
“I told you so … In 2013, when the Fight for $15 was still in its growth stage, I and others warned that union demands for a much higher minimum wage would force businesses with small profit margins to replace full-service employees with costly investments in self-service alternatives. At the time, labor groups accused business owners of crying wolf. It turns out the wolf was real.”
Restaurants across the United States are following McDonald’s lead and testing automated technology to replace food service workers, Vox reports. For those who invest in employees instead of new technology, adjusting to raising wages will still be an experiment. For many, it’s an experiment worth conducting if it means sculpting our economy into something that works for everyone.
While a $15 minimum wage is a good start, it still doesn’t come close to providing many urban residents with a living wage. According to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are only 16 states in America where you can earn less than $15 per hour and still afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In expensive states like California and New York, the hourly wages needed to rent a standard apartment are much higher at $28.59 and $26.69, respectively. That’s nearly double the hourly wage workers are fighting to secure and quadruple the current federal standard.
California’s plan to raise its state minimum wage to $15 by 2022 is, again, a good start, but it doesn’t address rapidly escalating rent prices and the disproportionate cost of living. According to the Los Angeles Times, average rent prices in Los Angeles County are expected to rise 8.3 percent by 2018 and nearly 11 percent in San Diego County. With trends like these fundamentally altering most American cities, we need to do more to ensure American workers can actually afford to live in the cities they build and support.