2014 ERC Scholarship Essay Program $750 Recipient
Kylie McMillan, Redmond (Seattle University)

“I wish I made more money,” Rachel whined to her sister from behind the cash register at the local fast food restaurant in her hometown. “It isn’t fair,” she continued, “My friend Kylie makes twice what I make an hour!”

“What does Kylie do, exactly?” Rachel’s sister countered.

Rachel sighed, “She’s a caregiver for a Leukemia patient,” she mumbled, already aware that she had lost the argument.

“How did she get that job?” Her sister inquired.

“Well, she’s in college and she’s getting her nursing degree. She has worked really hard,” Rachel admitted.

If the government suddenly raised minimum wage to $15 an hour it would not actually address the problem and instead make it worse. Sure, more money sounds like an obvious solution to American poverty. However, upon reflection, the group intended to benefit from this raise, the impoverished, would actually be harmed. If minimum wage were significantly raised, employers and small business owners would not be able to hire as many employees, thus decreasing the number of jobs available for those who can only obtain minimal skill employment. If the fast food restaurant that Rachel works at was forced to pay their workers $15 instead of $8, do you think they would really want to keep Rachel, who just barely graduated high school and has almost no skills in the work force? No. They simply would move on to more useful employees and eliminate the opportunity for Rachel to learn new skills – thus poor Rachel would have a new problem: chronic unemployment for the rest of her life. Rachel, who used to make $8 an hour, now, makes nothing – her wage and many others just went from something to nothing, which defeats the purpose of raising minimum wage entirely.

Additionally, there are specific economic explanations on why minimum wage is the amount that it is. $9.32 is the legal minimum wage in Washington State. Now, if you compare that to the $7.25 my best friend makes in her home state of Nebraska, it seems discernibly unfair. However, there are reasons for the approximate $2 difference between the two. Nebraska has a lower average cost of living than Washington State and therefore its citizens do not need to make as much income in order to sustain life for their families (ideally) above the poverty line. Raising minimum wage to $15 an hour for states like Nebraska would be staggering and debilitating. A fast food restaurant in Nebraska would have serious trouble paying its employees. Furthermore, the jump in wages would force rises in food prices as well. The raise in minimum wage would thus be futile: Nebraska’s citizens would be in the same place they started.

We should avoid policy changes that create harm. It is best to let the wage of a person be a product of free exchange. Allowing wages to be set naturally between workers and firms permits wages to rise as young employees obtain new abilities and skills while growing as individuals.