A $15-Per-Hour Fast-Food Wage Gets the Time of Day

Stephen Herzenberg |

The second in an occasional series on reducing inequality

In the first post in this series, I suggested that American elite opinion might actually be swinging towards the need to take some long-overdue—and obvious—steps to reduce inequality, including raising area-wide wages in low-paid service industries through policy or by allowing workers to form area-wide labor unions.

One example of progress in public debate has been mainstream media reaction to the demands of fast-food workers for a $15-per-hour wage. The liberal media has not been dismissive of this idea, which is, sadly, a step forward. For example, see this New York Times editorial from Saturday.

One justification cited by The Times for paying fast-food workers more is the savings to governmental public assistance programs for low-wage workers. A recent study found that more than half of fast-food workers rely on public assistance. This same argument has been picked up by a conservative Silicon Valley millionaire pushing for a referendum to raise the California minimum wage to $12 per hour.

The Times also published a news story recently with a back-and-forth among economists about the consequences of a $15-per-hour fast food wage — another sign that the idea is being given the time of day.

Even better, the small community that houses the airport in the Seattle, Washington area has actually enacted a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Much higher wages for the bottom third of the U.S. labor market, which would help push up wages in the middle as well. An idea whose time has come.