Op-Ed

Raise is still not a living wage

TNS

For Floridians making the minimum wage, the new year will bring slightly larger paychecks. The state increased the minimum wage by 12 cents from $7.93 an hour to $8.05 an hour. Those working 40 hours a week at minimum wage will see their year-end income grow by nearly $250, not an insignificant amount for these workers who struggle to make ends meet.

But this increase is not nearly enough for one of the most economically vulnerable populations in the Miami-Dade County workforce: those who do not make a living wage.

Minimum-wage workers in Florida are lucky to live in a state whose minimum wage exceeds the federal requirement, $7.25. A full-time Florida minimum-wage worker will make $1,664 more than someone stuck at the federal minimum wage.

However, throughout Florida, the state minimum wage fails to meet what would constitute a living wage, one that would allow workers to maintain their basic needs and achieve financial independence. This is especially true in Miami-Dade County where, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculatorlivingwage.mit.edu/counties/12086 — one needs to earn at least $10.79 an hour to earn a living wage in the county.

As many local residents know firsthand, the cost of living in Miami-Dade has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the Location Affordability Index by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, county residents spend on average 54 percent of their incomes on just housing and transportation alone, higher than other major metropolitan areas including New York City (49 percent), Chicago (48 percent) and San Francisco (43 percent).

As it becomes harder for so many Miamians to make ends meet even as the city flourishes, it has become especially difficult for minimum-wage workers, who see nearly all of their income go toward living expenses. Even then, many must rely on government assistance or family support — or they incur debt just to get by.

While Floridians would benefit from a further increase, that scenario seems unlikely. Although the state raised its minimum wage this year, that is the result of a 2004 constitutional amendment that raised the minimum wage to $6.15 and annually adjusted for inflation.

Legislators in Tallahassee have demonstrated resistance to raising the state minimum wage despite widespread support in polls. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times last year, Gov. Rick Scott said it makes him “cringe” when state politicians propose to raise the minimum wage to help families make ends meet. In the same statement, ironically, he also recognized the difficulty of making ends meet while earning minimum wage.

Unfortunately, minimum-wage jobs are a necessary part of the job market. But they are no longer rites of passage for young workers. Minimum-wage work has increased among older workers, particularly those hit hard by the recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half of all minimum-wage workers are 25 or older.

There are ways for the community to help improve wages at a local level. As the Herald reported last year, some businesses who employ low-wage workers have already gone above and beyond by providing livable incomes. Not only do these businesses attract the best talent in their field, they have also have lower turnover and higher productivity.

Miami-Dade County already has living-wage ordinances on the books. Contractors working for the county that meet certain parameters are required to pay their workers $14.27 an hour if they do not provide their workers health insurance and $12.46 if they do. While you’re not likely to get rich off these salaries, they help ensure workers are closer to financial stability.

But the county can do more to ensure that workers throughout the city are making living wages. Seattle, New York and San Francisco have raised their minimum wages or adopted more expansive living-wage policies to ensure that workers in these cities can continue to afford the high cost of living. While some might resist these policies out of fear they will have a damaging impact on employment, the Department of Labor said that a review of more than 60 studies showed that minimum-wage increases had “no discernible effect” on employment.

Many in Miami work tirelessly to help improve the quality of life for local residents. But one of the best ways to ensure that nearly everyone in our community has a better quality of life is by providing living wages to employees.

Ricardo Mor, of the Miami Center for Architecture & Design, writes about the visual arts, food and urban living.

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