The Fight For $15

“The Fight For 15” is a flawed attempt to solve the problem of the decoupling of inflation from wages. Minimum wage is always stagnant, with occasional jumps, typically closer to a living wage. A living wage is a wage that is high enough for people to meet their basic needs and survive. This is not even considering their further needs in order to thrive, just basic survival. The problem is that there is always a delay between articulating a policy and adopting a policy. In the case of “The Fight For 15,” a static living wage was adopted as the eponymous condensing symbol. This was done in 2012. People are still fighting today for a wage which would let them survive in 2012. Meanwhile, inflation has continued to drive the cost of living ever higher, well beyond that rate.

Another problem is the sometimes legitimate resistance from people in the rural Midwest for example, where $15/hour is much higher than the cost of living. One solution does not work everywhere. In Oakland, where I spend most of my time these days, the cost of living is $18.73/hr. If “The Fight For 15” eventually succeeded, people in Oakland would be slightly less screwed than they are today, but still unable to survive.

There is another solution which does not receive a lot of attention, but which works well in my home state of Oregon. Different rates are established for different types of areas; urban, suburban, rural. Then each is automatically adjusted each year based on inflation. This means that for rural mountain towns, the minimum wage is lower than for busy urban centers. According to Living Wage Calculator, this has led to the minimum wage in various parts of Oregon being much closer to a living wage than wages in California. I think that stratifying the wages to match the local conditions is critical, as is adjusting the wages automatically on a regular basis according to increases in the cost of living.

As a gay man with a career in computer science and no children, I am very lucky. There are basically no jobs in my field making less than six figures. Family Budget Calculator reports that I will need less than half the average salary in my field in order to make ends meet. I will be fine, but most people will not. As someone with economic privilege, it is my duty to advocate for changes which improve conditions for the people who are losing out in our economic system.