Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The skimpiness of U.S. minimum wages

Would raising minimum wages really cause people to leave the job market, as many charge? Yes, a minimum wage of $80 or $100 an hour would certainly have that effect, but the federal minimum of $7.25 doesn’t seem dangerously high. The Canadian province of Ontario has a minimum of $10.25 and thousands of unemployed Canadians don’t sneak across the border to supplement their jobless pay by snaring a job in the U.S.

“Americans should face the truth: we pay poor people crap because we can, because they have few choices and nowhere else to go but jail.”

So writes Salvatore Babones on his Website Benchmarking America. He supports his case by citing the most recent OECD data, which puts the U.S. the federal minimum pay at the bottom of the rate paid by 10 rich countries.

“What’s more,” he adds, “people working minimum-wage jobs in all the other nine countries have some form of national health insurance coverage, so their true wages on a like-for-like basis are even higher than in America."
Babones is a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney in Australia. His current academic project evaluates U.S. performance over time and against other countries. The paragraphs above on minimum wages are a summary of one of dozens of his analyses, illustrated and salted with plain-speaking prose.

His book, “Benchmarking America,” will be published next year. Meantime, previews of some chapters are available on his Website of that name, as well as on Facebook. He speaks and leads a discussion on Monday, August 15, at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington.

1 comment:

Salvatore said...

Thanks so much for bringing these data to wider attention! One thing that has inspired me is moving from the US to Australia. At current exchange rates, a MINIMUM WAGE worker in Australia by law earns $17 an hour, gets four weeks annual vacation, up to 10 sick days a year, and of course full health insurance. Did I mention that if you work for the same fast food company for ten years you get an additional two months' long service leave? That's right: fast food workers get sabbaticals! In Australia, all humans can have dignity in the workplace, not just "professionals" and "executives." It's time America learned a thing or two.