In response to growing economic frustrations among the working class, protests have erupted all over the country, the most recent being a hunger strike by fast-food workers in Los Angeles. They've given up food for 15 days in an effort to push a $15 minimum wage.
“I’m definitely ready to fight and do whatever we have to do for my kids,” Mary Carmen Farfan, a protester who works at Burger King, told Think Progress. “I want a better life for them. That’s why I’m doing this.”
The minimum wage continues to be one of the most divisive economic issues in America, and protests like the hunger strike are stoking the flames. Principally because not everyone is on board with the economic assumptions of the protests.
"U.S. wages have indeed been rising, not standing static as so many shout at us that they have," Tim Worstall, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, wrote in Forbes on Saturday.
Worstall argues that relying on the Personal Consumption Expenditure Index, instead of the more often cited Consumer Price Index, shows that wage stagnation has been overhyped. Income, he argues, has in fact kept up with productivity.
Worstall also echoed the feelings of many skeptics of raising the minimum wage when he argued last year that a $15 minimum "is simply an absurd demand." According to Worstall, the economy simply couldn't handle such an increase in cost for businesses to pay workers, and would lead to "very large unemployment effects."
But it's the morality debate that arguably remains the most heated. In a widely circulated post for The Blaze, blogger Matt Walsh argued that fast-food workers and other low-wage employees simply don't deserve an increase in income. Such a thing, he argued, would promote a dangerous and immoral world view.
"I’m not insulting you, but when you claim you ought to be able to stroll into Hardee’s and be immediately rewarded with a salary higher than crane operators and medical lab technicians, someone needs to talk some sense into you," Walsh wrote.
"I wish I didn’t have to point out that you are doing something which is fundamentally worth very little, but when you stomp your feet and insist you should be handed what some of us worked decades to earn, that’s when it becomes time for, as the kids would say, real talk."
Walsh's reaction is a direct push against the idea, argued by may of the protesters and their allies, that the minimum wage should be considered an issue of human rights. While some argue that it should be the right of everyone working full-time to earn a living wage, Walsh and others believe that equating hourly pay with any set of rights is simply going too far.
But to others, the economy has simply been stacked against the working class, and the protests are simply a natural manifestation of dire economic realities that plague millions of Americans.
The Economic Policy Institute published a study last January that found hourly pay for the average worker rose 9 percent from 1973 to 2013, a number it argues is way too low (the EPI is a left-leaning think tank). That’s well behind productivity, which increased 74 percent, according to the EPI.
"American workers have been receiving meager pay increases for so long now that it’s reasonable to talk in sweeping terms about the trend," The Upshot's David Leonhardt wrote last year. "It is the great wage slowdown of the 21st century."
Leonhardt argued that the gap between wages and productivity has not gone unnoticed by workers, possibly shaping economic attitudes more than the recession itself. Economic pessimism has already been a defining factor of the 21st century economy, and Leonhardt argued that something needed to change — be it bolstering education or reforms in government spending — to calm the anxieties of the working class.
Now, flash forward to the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. The economy remains a central part of both major parties' platforms. Increasing wages is expected to be a major focus of Hillary Clinton's campaign, and potential Republican contender Mike Huckabee recently argued that avoiding the issue of income stagnation would be a political disaster for Republicans.
Workers themselves have become more vocal as well. The hunger strike is part of a recent push to establish a $15 minimum wage that has led to protests and strikes all across the country. On April 15, close to 1,000 low-wage employees reportedly gathered in Los Angeles alone to push for higher wages as part of a nationwide protest.
"If we come together, things can change,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told Bloomberg Business. "There’s momentum behind working people joining together to improve their lives. That’s what this movement is about.”
JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National. Email: email@example.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.