Dignified work

During the recent debate in the Senate about raising the minimum wage, an incongruous claim—supposedly to defend minorities—stood out, that a poverty wage provides the best opportunity for African-American and Latino youths to get ahead.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas challenged his Democratic colleagues, who were proposing a gradual increase in order to reach $10.10 per hour in a few years, “to look in the eyes of those African-American teenagers, those Hispanic teenagers who are looking for a better opportunity.”

In that case, we suggest to Senator Cruz that he should be the one who looks in the eyes of these youths when he explains to them why their parents deserve a poverty wage so low that they will need public assistance to make ends meet despite working full-time. By the way, he can also tell them why that public assistance for the working poor must be cut in order to balance the budget without inconveniencing people earning high incomes.

The big mistake is to still believe that minimum wage is just the base income for young people who are joining the workforce, for example at a fast food restaurant. Currently, those positions in the workplace are mostly held by adults with families, who earn the wages of teenagers unencumbered by responsibility.

The last time that the federal minimum wage was raised was seven years ago. It happened through a bipartisan deal that would be hard to reach today, because of the radicalization of a sector of the Republican caucus who believe that there should not be a minimum wage, but instead compensation according to the market’s supply and demand.

We think that Cruz should worry about the well-being of the more than 10 million people who would benefit from the increase instead of the half a million jobs that could temporarily be impacted. As far as minority youths, it is necessary to emphasize the dignity and value of work. However, to accomplish that, there is no need to diminish and underpay the work that their parents do.