Preamble: While I do believe the minimum wage should be raised, I believe that universal basic income would be a more effective way to combat poverty. This essay was written for a debate on the subject of the minimum wage, not merely to express my views on combatting poverty.
Poverty and discrimination in the United States are largely caused by its excessively low minimum wage(s). Congress has been unable to keep track with inflation in the country, so the minimum wage’s actual spending value is the lowest it has ever been. Not only are a large majority of workers in the United States making minimum wage, but most of these workers experience discrimination on multiple levels. Workers making minimum wage experience class inequality, and often racial and gender discrimination as well. Women and people of color make up a large portion of this workforce. Raising the minimum wage would improve living conditions for many workers, stimulate the economy, and move the country closer to pay equity and general equality for all people.
In the United States, the average woman makes $0.69 for every dollar that a White non-Latino man earns (American Association of University Women). Though not necessarily caused solely by a low minimum wage, this wage gap is largely caused by the exceedingly low minimum wage in the United States. Over 60% of minimum wage workers, and two-thirds of tipped workers receiving federally $2.13 per hour, are women (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; National Women’s Law Center). It has been speculated that a large portion of women would receive a significant pay raise if the minimum wage would be raised to over $10 (National Women’s Law Center). Since the majority of low-wage workers are women, raising the minimum wage would help close the wage gap between male and female workers. Wage inequality is one of the major forms of gender discrimination and inequality, thus, increasing the minimum wage would improve discrimination in the country, as well as its individual states, especially those which have wider wage gaps.
Raising the minimum wage would not only help to close the gender wage gap, but also the racial wage gap. 36.3% of workers earning minimum wage or less are of non-White racial backgrounds (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Not only are a large portion of people of color making low wages, but they also receive unequal pay rates, at less than $0.75 for every dollar that a White man earns (InfoPlease). Similarly to women, raising the minimum wage would significantly improve poverty rates for people of color. The gender and race wage gaps are interlinked, so raising the minimum wage will decrease poverty especially among women of color, who make up 23% of all minimum wage workers in the country (National Women’s Law Center).
Raising the minimum wage will not only help close the race and gender wage gap, but it will also decrease the number of people who need government assistance. In 2012, over 27% of U.S. citizens were receiving government assistance (U.S. Census Bureau). Additionally, media outlets prevent any social unity among lower income people, causing racial and economic discrimination. Often, lower income people will attack each other, especially if they are of different ethnic groups, for receiving welfare, or “being lazy”. If the number of welfare and other government assistance program recipients decreases, it is likely that media attention regarding it will also decrease, thus improving social discrimination in the United States.
Despite the existence of the Fair Housing Act, racial segregation is live and well in the United States. In fact, a study by Brown University in 2010 found that racial segregation of Latinos has actually increased since 1990. Since a large portion of low-income workers are people of color, raising the minimum wage might improve the segregation of poor neighborhoods. Although this same study by Brown University found that income is often irrelevant to racial segregation, raising the minimum wage would inevitably improve living conditions of these neighborhoods. Improved living conditions in neighborhoods with significant minority populations could potentially diversify both White and non-White neighborhoods. A higher minimum wage would result in the improvement of social services, such as schools, fire departments, hospitals, and also local businesses in these neighborhoods, without pricing out low-income people and people of color.
Raising the minimum wage would increase high school graduation rates and college entrance rates. The National Center for Education Statistics (NECS) found that, since 2008, the number of school-age children in poverty has increased in every ethnic or racial group, especially Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and mixed race. NECS also suggests that children in poverty have a lower chance of completing education, and lower academic performance. It can be speculated as well that decreasing neighborhood poverty, especially for minority neighborhoods, will increase the funding for those schools, thus increasing the graduation rates in those neighborhoods and minority groups. This increased access to education will lead to greater opportunity among disadvantaged people, such as access to higher education, access to better and safer jobs, and a greater chance to bring oneself out of poverty.
Many people making minimum wage are living in neighborhoods deemed as poor. In the United States, nearly 20% of all people live in neighborhoods in which over 20% of the residents are below the poverty line. Most of these people are of color, with Latinos, Native Americans, and Black people having the most significant populations in poor neighborhoods (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Brookings University found that people aged 12 and up living in a low-income household are victim to significantly more crime, especially assault, than those of higher income households. Additionally, lower income neighborhoods across the country experience higher rates of crime, police activity, and incarceration. Lower income neighborhoods also have less funding for their schools, which leads to poor education, thus higher dropout rates and lower college entrance rates. With poor or no education, lower income people are forced into low-wage jobs, and are unable to bring themselves out of poverty. This cycle continues for the children of low-income parents, preventing them from pursuing higher education and well-paying careers. Since people of color make up such a large portion of workers making minimum wage or less, raising the minimum wage could either bring these people out of these poor neighborhoods, or improve the neighborhood’s income as a whole, without leaving residents behind through gentrification. These neighborhoods not only experience worse education and higher crime, but higher infant mortality, less overall health care coverage, and minimal access to healthy food.
People of color and poor people have extremely minimal access to healthcare in the United States, with Obamacare only barely helping to neutralize this burden. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are significantly less people of color with health insurance than there are White people with health insurance. Also, an overwhelming amount of Medicaid enrollees are below the federal poverty line and are neither Asian nor White. Most Asian and White Medicaid enrollees are actually above the federal poverty line by quite a large amount (Kaiser Family Foundation). Meanwhile, most people on either public health insurance like Medicaid or with no health care are non-Asian people of color. There are barely any uninsured Asians or Whites, especially when compared to Black, Latino, or Native American households. This huge amount of uninsured or poorly insured people of color leads to higher infant mortality rates, and worse health. This is mostly reflected by another study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that Black and Native American infants are nearly twice as likely to die than Asian and Whites. Increasing the minimum wage would enable more Latino, Black, and Native American households to be covered by public, as well as private, health insurance companies. This would lead to improved health among these communities, and lower infant mortality rates.
The ability to advance into careers is largely discriminatory by race, gender, and physical/mental ability. According to the Center for American Progress, in the years 2011 through 2013, an overage of only 39.8% of all people in the United States ages 25 to 34 had at least an associate’s degree. In most states, this number is lower, with Nevada at the lowest number of people who have degrees at 29.5%. With rising college tuitions and constant inflation, less people are able to enter into college and careers. Many well-paying careers require college education of some sort, but it is shown that people cannot afford this education. Raising the minimum wage would pave the way for people to be able to actually afford higher education, and thus, people from working class and non-White backgrounds will be able to enter non-laborious careers. This will increase diversity and reduce discrimination in these higher level fields. Being able to pay for college would empower many people of color and working class families to enter into these fields that have been dominated by affluent White men.
Discrimination has been a major social issue in the United States for all of its history, whether due to a person’s race, gender, sexuality, physical and mental disabilities, or income. Raising the minimum wage can help further the country into the realm of equality, by bringing working people out of poverty, equalizing the wages of minorities and White men, improving neighborhoods and schools, increasing access to healthcare, and bringing people of color into careers rather than laborious jobs. Working people experience discrimination in just about every aspect of their lives. Working people have minimal access to health care and good education, are victimized more often, and are forced into a system that prevents them from achieving their career goals. Women and people of color, especially, experience these discriminatory systems at a higher rate than working class White men. Though raising the minimum wage and maintaining it with the rising living prices will not completely eliminate discrimination, it is a step in the right direction.
- American Association of University Women. “By the Numbers: A Look at the Gender Pay Gap”. September 17, 2015. Washington, DC: AAUW. Web. March 6, 2016.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. Expanded Homicide Data Table 6. Crime in the U.S. 2014. n.d. Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation. Web. March 8, 2016.
- H. Harris, Benjamin, and Melissa S. Kearney. “The Unequal Burden of Crime and Incarceration of America’s Poor”. April 28, 2014. Brookings University. Web. March 8, 2016.
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- Kaiser Family Foundation. “Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity: The Potential Impact of the Affordable Care Act”. March 13, 2013. Washington, DC: The * Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Web. March 8, 2016.
- Kaiser Family Foundation. “Infant Mortality Rate (Deaths per 1,000 Live Births) by Race/Ethnicity”. n.d. Washington, DC: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Web. March 8, 2016.
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- R. Logan, John. “Separate and Unequal: The Neighborhood Gap for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in Metropolitan America”. U.S. 2010: Discover American in a New Century. July 2011. Brown University. Web. March 5, 2016.
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Neighborhoods and Health”. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. n.d. Web. March 5, 2016.
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- West, Rachel, and Jackie Odum. “Poverty and Opportunity in the States: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. States of the States Report 2015. February 2016. Center for American Progress. Web. March 8, 2016.