Minimum wage is a law designed to protect the interests of low-wage workers. Its goal is to provide them with a reasonable standard of living.
Recently, minimum wage has increasingly become a topic of greater interest. Liberals assert that corporate or even small business entities are often negligent of the needs of low paid employees. Conservatives argue that the minimum wage resembles price fixing and planned economies, things that have proved detrimental when they were tried extensively in communist-ruled countries.
Minimum wage makes the most sense if it is applied at a municipal or county level, preferably enacted and enforced by the municipality or county itself.
The original purpose of the law is to reduce extreme poverty and ensure a basic standard of living. What determines a reasonable standard of living? I would say food, housing and transportation are a starting point. Both housing and transportation costs depend primarily on where you live. Furthermore, local policies and programs, such as zoning, housing rules and public transit, all have significant effects on the level of these costs.
To top it all off, let's talk about poverty. At a certain level, poverty is a national problem. What we do affects each other, and if one part of the country has a poverty problem, it has negative effects on all of us. However, the local effects of poverty are much more pronounced. Homeless people don't sleep on one collective street for the entire country; they sleep on one particular street in one particular city. Food pantries don't service all 50 states. They help individuals from their local surrounding community. And finally, when there is an increase of crime due to poverty, the resulting theft, vandalism and violent crimes all happen in the local community.
Giving a local community more tools to deal with local poverty could be very empowering.
A local minimum wage would also lead to fewer jobs leaving the country. Manufacturing jobs can be done at competitive rates in affordable rural communities. Meanwhile, a restaurant worker in a large city isn't stuck with an impossibly small paycheck.
One problem that liberals may point out is that some communities may be negligent at providing the same level of support and protection as others. Perhaps multiple legislative entities could play a role in setting the local wage floor. Perhaps we would want to maintain a national minimum wage at a lower level, but encourage local communities to set a higher one.
When setting a minimum wage we must consider the needs of the new workers, young workers and second or third wage earners in a single household, as well as primary providers who are working minimum wage full-time. We have to consider the needs of those who may be racially or socially discriminated against. We have to consider the needs of small local businesses trying to compete with large corporations with vast resources.
I think that a local minimum wage does a better job of addressing these diverse issues.
Our state and communities can become leaders in this regard if we pass local minimum wage laws that effectively serve our local communities.
Derek McDaniels is a student living with his family in Provo who is seeking better job opportunities.
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