Mt. Vernon Register-News


February 1, 2014

The value of increasing minimum wage


Does that little bit extra an hour make a difference? A man smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk outside did not think that was a very hard question. “Of course it would help,’’ said John Griffin-McBridge, who works for a family-run home-improvement business in Washington. “How would more money not help?’’

Even those who said they don’t support such an increase weren’t unconflicted. “I’m pretty conservative,’’ said Tiffany Morris, a Virginia lawyer who was browsing books at Busboys & Poets, down the block from Ace Hardware, “so I’m sympathetic to people working for lower wages, but you have such an issue of the government thrusting all these costs on small business already.”

Whatever you think the right answer is, the most striking thing about the big push might be how few people would benefit directly: Only 1.5 million Americans made the federal minimum wage in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — in addition to the 2 million who earned less, such as certain disabled workers and those who get tips.

Most of the people I stopped on the same block Perez visited said they didn’t know one person who makes minimum wage.

Because they also hastened to make clear that they themselves didn’t earn such a lowly sum, maybe they do know someone in that situation and aren’t aware of it.

One who said she does know many people working multiple minimum-wage jobs, though, is dance instructor/gym employee/graduate school student Zahra Carpenter, whose ultimate aspiration is to “create this new career of ‘dance scientist,’ to help people heal.”

Carpenter, who was having a salad at Sweetgreen, said she has had a few minimum-wage jobs in past years, and has been juggling part-time gigs since she was in high school at the District of Columbia’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. But teachers there gave her an important way to think about moving beyond those early jobs, she said, by continually telling her that “if the opportunity isn’t there, you create it.”

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