No easy solution to the wage debate

The U.S. should consider adopting a minimum wage rate system like the UK’s.

by Luis Ruuska

The minimum wage debate is shaping up to be the hot-button issue of the year.

On the right, they argue that increasing the minimum wage forces employers to cut jobs and hire less often to recoup the financial losses.

On the left, they argue that the current minimum wage is too low for employees to be able to support themselves and their dependents.

I find merit on both sides.

On one hand, there’s no denying minimum wage jobs are extremely necessary. Many minimum wage employees ensure that society functions normally. Too often we turn a blind eye to the financial struggles of these people.

But the fact is an across-the-board minimum wage increase is not the solution. A high school student looking to make some extra cash during the summer by flipping burgers is not comparable to a maintenance worker trying to support a family. A full-time minimum wage employee  makes only 65 percent of the federal poverty guideline if they are the sole earner of a family of four.

Since our politicians seem incapable of differentiating these two situations, they may want to look at how our neighbors across the pond solved their minimum wage debate.

There was no minimum wage in the United Kingdom before 1999. Nevertheless, the National Minimum Wage Act created several different national minimum wage rates for groups based on age and experience.

Today, workers 21 and older make £6.31 ($10.29), 18 to 21 make £5.03 ($8.20) and everyone else under 18 makes £3.72 ($6.07). Apprentices, who could be compared to vocational students in the U.S., make £2.68 ($4.37). Though the buying power of minimum wage is different in the UK, the tiered system is a concept that U.S. lawmakers could consider.

Furthermore, these rates do not necessarily remain stagnant for extended periods like the national minimum wage rate in the U.S. does. Every year, the Low Pay Commission in the UK recommends rate changes to the government to account for things like inflation or increased cost of living.

The idea seems almost too simple. The needs of minimum wage workers are not created equal, so our wage policies should reflect that. Furthermore, the system actually seems to work and has bipartisan support.

When the act was passed, the Conservative Party opposed the legislation, citing many of the same reasons that the GOP cites today.

However, when the British economy saw no significant effect on employment or productivity cuts, the Conservative Party reversed its stance toward minimum wage.

The act seems to be popular. More than half of all voters from each of the country’s four primary political parties are in favor of raising the minimum wage.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect that such a rational law has a chance here in the U.S., but one can hope.

The main problem with the minimum wage debate stateside is that both parties have oversimplified the discussion. People on both sides want to make it a black-and-white issue when it’s anything but two-sided. The issue has far too many complexities for an easy solution like raising the rate or ignoring the rising cost of living.

Perhaps we should look outside our political sphere for inspiration for our own minimum wage policies.