2014 ERC Scholarship Essay Program $1,000 Recipient
Charles Lu, Bellevue (Interlake High School)

Our great nation was founded on the principle that everyone has the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. In today’s world, in the pursuit of the inalienable right of happiness, it is essential that one has a stable, well-paying job. Some believe that, by increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, workers would be afforded a higher standard of living. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As a high school student, I’ve volunteered on Councilmember Lee’s re-election campaign, worked on community dialogue projects, and joined the Eastside Republican Club. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the issue of minimum wage with many members of the community. Based on my discussions, the common thread is that a minimum wage increase will only exacerbate our problems, not solve them.

While working on my community dialogue projects, I’ve been able to learn more about local businesses and their operations—most notably, Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants, which founded the Community Forums Network. Jim Spady, Vice President of Dick’s, puts it best: a $15 per hour minimum wage is simply unsustainable.

The logic is simple—let’s say an entry-level worker makes the current minimum wage of $9.19 per hour. If the minimum wage were to be increased to $15, not only would the entry-level worker’s salary need to be increased, but also all the workers across the board. The obvious result would be the worker being laid off, as it would not be financially sensible to continue paying a worker whose work is not worth $15 an hour. Vast salary increases would also force consumers to pay increased prices. Yet another negative consequence is decreased workplace productivity. What is the incentive to work hard and get a promotion if everyone is guaranteed $15 an hour or more? The simple truth is that an increased minimum wage would result in more people making $0 an hour rather than $15 an hour.

My opposition to an increase in minimum wage is not merely supported by economic theory; it has been confirmed by history time and time again. In Puerto Rico, for example, the creation of a minimum wage law in 1938 resulted in over 100,000 workers losing jobs and a 50% unemployment rate. [1] More recently, increases to the minimum wage in American Samoa from 2007 to 2009 were so damaging to the economy that President Obama had to take action and sign a bill into law delaying the increases. [2]

Though we would all like to eliminate poverty and increase standards of living across the board, the simple fact of the matter is that an increased minimum wage would result in far more negative consequences than benefits—whether it’s increased unemployment, increased prices, or decreased workplace productivity. It’s clear that a $15 per hour minimum wage is the wrong approach.

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[1] Wilson, Mark. The Negative Effects of Minimum Wage Laws. Cato Institute—Downsizing the Federal Government. http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/labor/negative-effects-minimum-wage-laws#5

[2] United States Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Division (WHD). http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/americanSamoa/ASminwage.htm

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