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Talking about Minimum Wage

There has been a spate of articles on minimum wage recently. And, given the release of the CBO report on Minimum Wage yesterday, we're likely to see even more. (There have already been several partisan positions taken this morning; but we're not including any of those here.)

Here's the topline: Minimum wage is good for everything from lifting people out of poverty (surprise! pay people and they have money to do things - like eat and go to the doctor), to decreasing criminal recidivism, to preventing suicide. And much, much more.

When our policymakers talk about minimum wage, it is as though they struggle to imagine that anyone is working for the federal minimum wage ($7.25) in spite of the fact that this is the lived reality for more than 27M people in this nation and 29,000 Wyomingites.

When they conjure up a default human for the purposes of discussion, too often it is a 15-year-old boy flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant. But the data paint a different picture. Minimum wage workers are disproportionately women. They are caring for the aged and the infirm. They are cleaning rooms in hotels. They are checking your groceries. They are behind the scenes in myriad ways, large and small, maintaining our economy. They are often vulnerable and rarely unionized. (Though that might be changing which is a story for another post.)

The bottom line is that when we look at this issue through a gender lens, suddenly we see what was invisible before. As in so many other cases: Women become visible.

Unfortunately, we don't have a consistent mechanism to ensure that our policymakers and lawmakers and fellow citizens look at issues through a gender lens. As a result, women's labor continues to be undervalued and our opportunities for full engagement in the economy and our communities likewise limited.

Minimum wage is a great example of what happens when you shift your perspective, just a little. Not only does the gender lens enable you to see the full humanity of women who toil for less than a living wage, it also broadens your perspective enough to see what benefits come from raising that wage. Children are more successful, entrepreneurial talent is unleashed, fewer people are imprisoned, fewer people die, everyone benefits.

Small changes make big differences. Small raises can lead to more human flourishing. And raising the minimum wage is as close to a silver bullet as we have.


Links to articles and studies follow for your reading enjoyment!

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