By Sarah Audelo
For many young Americans, the economy just isn’t working in our favor.
Since the Great Recession, Millennials have continued to represent a growing share of low-wage workers. And while our generation continues to work to become better educated in order to support ourselves and our families, more than four in ten minimum-wage workers are college graduates or have at least some college education.
The current minimum wage is simply not enough for our generation. For young Americans in particular, wages have stagnated. This has left many of my peers struggling to pay their bills, rent, student loans, or save for retirement. We’re working hard to invest in our future, and raising the minimum wage would help many young people reach economic stability.
If we don’t want our generation to fall further behind economically, we need to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.
This is an issue that impacts young people significantly, and one that a majority of Americans support. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 71 percent of minimum wage workers are Millennials. And a recent poll found that 80 percent of our generation supports raising the minimum wage.
And when we take a deeper look, we find Hispanics are even more disproportionately affected by the minimum wage. Nearly 15 percent of the civilian labor force are Hispanic workers, yet they are nearly 19 percent of minimum wage workers.
And when we take a deeper look, we find African Americans are even more disproportionately affected by the minimum wage. African Americans make up slightly more than 11.5 percent of the civilian labor force, yet over 15 percent of minimum wage workers are African American.
To make matters worse, the current inflation rate has eroded the income of full-time, minimum-wage workers who are struggling or cannot make ends meet—which in turn makes it even more difficult to purchase basic necessities. In fact, the value of the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is less today than it was in 1968. If it had kept pace, minimum-wage employees in 2012 would have made $10.72 per hour—$3.27 more than the current rate.
That’s why a proposal introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it to inflation is so important. This bill has the potential to lift hardworking Americans up out of poverty, and their plan would also help expand economic opportunity for Millennials and create a more level playing field.
Some critics of raising the minimum wage believe that businesses—small businesses in particular—will either fire workers or hire fewer employees in the wake of an increase. However, there is a significant amount of research that debunks the criticism, which we outline in a new Generation Progress issue brief, “It’s Time to Give Millennials A Raise.”
Not only does a higher minimum wage benefit individuals, but there are also plenty of benefits to the larger economy. If we adopt the Harkin-Miller proposal, cash-strapped workers will have a higher disposable income, and they are likely to put that money back into the economy. In fact, this economic growth could result in 85,000 new jobs.
There are also other ways the economy stands to benefit from an increased minimum wage. A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that a higher minimum wage has the potential to reduce government spending on safety net programs; $46 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) savings are projected as a result of an increased minimum wage over the next ten years.
And finally, other low-wage earners stand to benefit from the Harkin-Miller plan. Those earning slightly more than the minimum wage could experience a spillover effect, where their wages could also be slightly elevated. Millennials would experience this spillover more than others, as a majority work in low wage jobs.
The lack of an adequate minimum wage is failing too many young Americans who continue to work harder and produce more, but simply aren’t reaping the rewards. Our lawmakers have a moral and economic imperative to ensure that our lowest paid workers have the economic opportunity to succeed. Let’s hope they listen.
Sarah Audelo is the Policy Director for Generation Progress, and her work focuses on directing Generation Progress’s youth-led and focused policy solutions related to economic justice, civil and human rights, and democracy.