Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME
Los Angeles has become the first city of its size to approve a minimum wage increase from $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2020. Since the federal minimum wage was instituted in 1938, it has increased 22 times, but the increases haven’t always kept up with rises in inflation and the cost of living. Los Angeles’s minimum wage increase is a welcome step to address that disconnect, and criticism of it distracts from the larger benefits of ensuring that low-wage workers are given equal opportunity to a livable wage.
Some argue that increasing the federal minimum wage would be bad for the economy, would cause layoffs, and would kill small businesses. These arguments have been disproven not only by time and experience, but also by longitudinal research studies, according to the Department of Labor.
But the most troubling argument against increasing the minimum wage is made by working-class people who fear that an increase in the minimum wage would give less-experienced workers more money while their salaries remain the same, rendering years of work, education, and experience useless. Small business owners often argue that as the minimum wage rises, more-experienced employees would want a raise, too, and the business would be forced to make cuts to accommodate.
Director Kevin Smith helped perpetuate this fear by poking fun at the Los Angeles minimum wage increase on Facebook. “Los Angeles raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. F— film: for that kinda money, I’m going back to work at convenience stores again.”
What Smith and others fail to realize is that increasing the minimum wage is not meant to equalize all people regardless of experience, but to raise the bottom pay level up to a livable amount. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that raising the minimum wage has no effect on hiring, meaning people need not fear for their jobs, and the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that raising the federal minimum wage could increase salaries for 30 million Americans.
Others fears that an increase in the minimum wage would cancel out the value of having a college education. Many with college degrees are working hard at jobs, unable to make ends meet, and drowning in school loans. But it isn’t the fault of the unskilled workers that a college education isn’t paying for itself anymore.
An increase in the minimum wage would have positive effects on many other jobs at all levels. Christina Romer, a University of California, Berkley, economics professor, economist and former chairwoman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economics found that higher wages lead to lower employee turnover rates, meaning both companies and employees benefit from job stability and experience when wages match skill sets and start at a livable level. Less money needs to be spent on training, and less turmoil exists in the workplace when people are content in their jobs.
The bottom line is that giving people the chance to work for a living wage does not chip away at those who have worked hard to already be able to afford their lives. An increase like the one in Los Angeles should be celebrated. Those unhappy with their own economic standing shouldn’t focus their ire on the bottom income earners, but on the top.