Remember your first job? I do. I was 17, and I was working in a local park. It was around the corner from my house, and it was my job to be a “Recreational Seasonal Employee.” The job included tasks such as painting the lines on baseball diamonds, driving pickup trucks rather recklessly, cleaning public bathrooms (major yuck), keeping score for basketball leagues in the park, picking up trash, painting curbs, and playing games of Uno and Rummy 500 with my fellow seasonal employees. It was a fun, easy job for the most part, and I made a whopping $7.00 an hour, which is just below the current minimum wage for New York State.
Was $7.00 an hour good for a high school student with no skills or experience? Absolutely! I had enough money to gas up the car, head to the movies, or hang out with friends. I saved some cash on the side for college related expenses, and stayed with the job until I got my bachelor’s degree.
However, now that I’m older, more experienced, and more educated, I know that I command a significantly higher wage. I have a master’s degree, I’ve learned fantastic skills, garnered great recommendations, and accumulated 7 years of experience in the full-time workforce.
The idea of a minimum wage job is simply not an option anymore, considering my skills, experience, education, and the fact that I want to be financially sound adult. As a kid with no bills, no car, and no cares, $7.00 an hour was a perfectly acceptable wage. However, as an adult with bills, a mortgage, and ambition, $7.00 an hour simply isn’t an option. It represents life at or below the poverty line, and it’s a wage that is simply not enough to live on in the New York City area.
Granted, the current minimum wage in New York is $7.25 an hour. It’s better than $7.00, but I still don’t consider that a living wage for an adult.
With that said, there’s been a bit of political debate going on lately about the minimum wage. Politicians are toying with the idea of raising the minimum wage, with the idea that it will help the economy if wages increase. In New York, there is a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 over the next 3 years or so, giving minimum wage earners an automatic 24% raise over the next few years! I want to be clear here – $9.00 an hour is not what I would consider a living wage in today’s economy. But, I also think that it’s not too shabby compared to the 2-4% the average worker gets annually.
While I love the idea of increased wages for those of us earning the minimum, I’m a bit concerned about the lack of focus on the rest of us. There are lots of “middle class” people out there who have been working away over the past decade or so without receiving significant wage increases. Will they benefit from the increase in wages too? Or will their wages remain stagnant, as they have for nearly a decade?
Hence, I raise the question of the day: What would you do if you had a 24% raise guaranteed over the next 3 years? Ponder and feel free to comment with any ideas for how you would choose to use your newfound dough.