Does “Raise Michigan” Benefit Minimum Wage Workers?

There is an initiative petition to put a proposed law on the ballot in Michigan, approved as to form February 19, 2014, and currently being circulated. From the Michigan SOS website: “Purpose: Petition proposes to amend the Minimum Wage Law of 1964 to increase the minimum wage. Contact: Raise Michigan, P.O. Box 1502, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068.”

The specific language of the petition is complex, with references to which state laws would be amended and so on. You can find the whole text at the SOS website. (See http://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/Petition_Language_2013_410796_7.pdf.)

The gist of it is that the minimum hourly wage rate shall be: beginning January 1, 2015, $8.10; beginning January 1, 2016, $9.10; beginning January 1, 2017, $10.10; and, every October beginning in October, 2017, the minimum wage shall be increased by the rate of inflation.

The long-term position of GPMI is that the minimum wage should be a living wage. I agree with this position. Since the Clinton administration changed welfare into workfare, everyone applying for welfare has been “encouraged” to get a job, even if this is a mininmu-wage job. If everyone is expected to live on their wages, then it make sense that there should be a job available for everyone able to work, and the wages of that job should be a living wage.

One problem is, there aren’t nearly enough jobs available. Another problem is, the current minimum wage is nowhere near a living wage. It’s common knowledge that many people working at Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and similar companies need food stamps to get by. (See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-13/how-mcdonald-s-and-wal-mart-became-welfare-queens.html.) That’s also true of veterans and the families of soldiers. (See http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry/dick-cheney-vets-food-stamps.)

That leaves open the question of what, exactly, constitutes a “living wage.” The general idea is, a wage that allows a family to live just above the poverty line. When you look closely at the question, you soon see that this varies a bit throughout the country.

The Massachussets Institute of Technology has an on-line calculator (http://livingwage.mit.edu/)to show what is a living wage in a given location. According to their explanation, “Our tool is designed to provide a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families. The estimates do not reflect a middle class standard of living.” They find actual costs for rent, food, child care, etc. in given locations, and work out from that what the minimum wage should be.

For Wayne County, Mi, it shows (Feb. 25, 2014):
1 adult – $9.01; 1 adult + 1 child – $18.77; 2 adults + 1 child – $17.08
For Grand Rapids, Mi, it shows (Feb. 25, 2014):
1 adult – $8.99; 1 adult + 1 child – $18.42; 2 adults + 1 child – $16.72
For Marquette, Mi, it shows (Feb. 25, 2014):
1 adult – $7.50; 1 adult + 1 child – $17.22; 2 adults + 1 child – $15.52

This is based on the idea of one adult in the family working, and making a wage sufficient to support the family. It shows that the expenses for a single parent raising one child are a little higher than for a couple raising one child. I presume this is because a single parent has to pay for child care, while a couple has one parent working and one able to watch the child.

It’s certainly possible to argue with specific numbers. Maybe a different method would be better in some respect or other. that does not mean the numbers from MIT are worthless.

It seems clear enough to me that it’s very difficult to come up with one number for a living wage that actually suits the variety of situations of actual people. if we are going to come up with a single number, then it should at least be adequate to allow a single parent with one child to provide a minimum standard of living for that minimal family. The MIT calculator says that for the state of Michigan as a whole, it’s $18.83.

Michigan is actually one of the cheaper locations. In Los Angeles, Chicago, New York (the Bronx) and Miami, the comparable figure is in the range of $20-$25. Anyone can go to the calculator (again, http://livingwage.mit.edu/) and check your location plus other states and/or other cities.

Having some idea of what it takes to constitute a living wage gives us a basis for evaluating the “Raise Michigan” petition. It’s clear that the dollar amounts specified in the petition are far below a living wage now, and they will be for the foreseeable future. If this petition is successful, then Michigan will be locked into a minimum wage that is not even close to a living wage for a long time to come.

In other words, If the petition gets on the ballot and is voted down, the minimum wage will stay at its current miserably low setting. If it passes, the minimum wage will be adjusted to a slightly higher but still miserably low setting. In either case, no fundamental change will take place.

Adjusting the minimum wage to keep it well inside the range of poverty wages doesn’t create any kind of prosperity or even relief for people working at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. It just allows them to get by with less in the way of food stamps. It doesn’t even address the lack of jobs. It doesn’t address those who can’t work and are receiving below poverty SSI benefits.

Accordingly, I will not circulate the petition and I will not sign the petition. It is, as far as I am concerned, an attempt to make marginal adjustments in wages to persuade people that “something” is being done, but without doing anything to change the fact that people working for minimum wage are forced to live in poverty.

Not everyone in the Green Party of Michigan agrees with this position. We are for raising the minimum wage, and some see this as a step in the right direction, even if it is inadequate. I see it as an attempt to head off the degree of change that is needed.

We are not, as an organization, set up to direct, compel or even expect our members to agree with any “party line” on a particular issue. We just don’t work that way. That’s what it means to have a democratically decentralized organization. We agree on the basic values of Grassroots democracy, social justice, ecological wisdom and non-violence. We don’t always agree on exactly how best to express those values in a given situation.

We do remain committed to reasonable discussion of our differences as well as our areas of agreement. That might lead to some interesting comments below.

Art Myatt

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One thought on “Does “Raise Michigan” Benefit Minimum Wage Workers?

  1. great points Art !!

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