The question of raising the federal minimum wage can feel like a Sophie’s Choice.
Do we let wages stay painfully low? Or do we raise them to keep up with inflation, knowing that it will likely cost some people their jobs?
Either outcome has the potential to have a negative impact on millions of Americans. And the question is so politically divisive that it is hard at times to get a clear look at the issue.
The numbers are some help. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 could mean that as many as 1 million Americans — 0.3 percent of those now employed — would lose their jobs. It also estimates that the wage increase would mean more money in the pockets of more than 16 million Americans.
Of course, those are just estimates. There is one test case at play now in Seattle, where local businesses have just begun dealing with a $15 minimum wage — the highest in the nation.
Some have argued that this rising tide will lift all boats. One restaurateur suggested that it could actually help locally owned restaurants if prices at fast-food restaurants went up — the theory being that if Big Macs and Whoppers were no longer so cheap, people might be more thoughtful about how they spend their food dollars.
Others have predicted calamity and warned that businesses won’t be able to survive paying out such relatively princely sums. Presumably we will know soon enough.
But $15 is still well out of reach for the millions who earn minimum wage. An increase to $10.10 would still not even keep up with inflation — a primary motivation for this increase.
Jessica Gallagher, a manager at the Oneonta Taco Bell who now earns more than the current minimum wage but less than the $10.10 proposed, said her rent has increased three times without the support of a pay raise, and this winter, electricity and natural gas bills went up.