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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Seamus Whelan and the fight to raise minimum wage

Seamus Whelan is an advocate of raising the minimum wage to $15
Seamus Whelan is an advocate of raising the minimum wage to $15

The following is a statement of opinion by a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston and does not reflect the official opinion of the Mass Media student newspaper. Mass Media and its regular staff do not, in an official or unofficial capacity, endorse any of the candidates for Boston City Council. 
Seamus Whelan, graduate of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s nursing program and member of the Socialist Alternative, is running for Boston City Council on a platform of democratization and increasing the minimum wage.
“The Fight for $15” has become Seamus Whelan’s rallying cry in his campaign for Boston City Council. Whelan’s suggested legislation would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and would include subsidies for small businesses, derived from taxes on large corporations.
The plan has been publicly criticized in the Boston Herald for the same reason any plan to raise the minimum wage is criticized. The argument is that if you make workers more expensive, companies will hire fewer employees. Sounds simple and logical, but reality is more complicated.
The premise is that if the government puts a minimum price on a good, the demand for that good will then drop. But this only applies when the mandated minimum price exceeds the current market price of the good.
A study published in 2012 by the Economic Policy Institute titled “How Raising the Minimum Wage Would Help Working Families and Give the Economy a Boost” revealed that high minimum wages do not negatively affect demand for employment, as is the argument brought forth by those against raising the minimum wage.
The study followed minimum-wage increases in five New England states beginning in 1965. The study suggests that low-wage employment opportunities have not decreased as the minimum wage has increased. During the economic recession from December 2007 to June 2009, the states with the highest minimum wages experienced the lowest rise in unemployment. 
A minimum wage that people can survive on strengthens local economies. A high minimum wage means people have more money to spend and feel more secure in uncertain times. They also value their jobs more, work harder, and therefore become more valuable to their employers.
The current minimum wage is not a living wage. It has not kept pace with national productivity or the cost of living.  A minimum wage full-time worker, someone working about forty hours a week with little or no benefits or paid time off, earns $15,080 annually. If that person is supporting a four-person household, they are living in poverty.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an annual income of $23,550 is the poverty threshold for a four-person home.
Minimum-wage workers deserve to at least be able to feed and house their families in return for the time they sacrifice as well as the mental and physical stress they handle.
In his unpublished response to the Herald article, Whelan wrote “With ever raising super-profits, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other huge corporations that thrive on paying starvation wages are the ones we need to be looking at to help feed money into our local economies and assure that anyone working full time can afford housing and groceries.”
I admire the strength of Whelan’s language because he is cutting at the heart of the capitalist scheme, which is to keep the real profits flowing straight to the top and give those workers with the least just enough to keep them better off than if they were unemployed.
Large corporations foster the idea that minimum-wage jobs are easy, that the people who work them do not deserve more money, and that these workers are plenty rewarded for their efforts.
By accusing these corporations of paying starvation wages, Whelan is bringing into stark relief the reality of the situation. These companies can well afford to pay their employees $15 per hour and much more; they simply would rather not have to.
Raising minimum wage would not affect the profit margin, but it would affect expectation margins. People would expect to be doing better and to be sharing more of the wealth.
This is a matter of shifting expectations. People need to realize how unbelievably skewed the distribution of wealth is in this country. They need to realize that their effort is worth more than the bare essentials and that they can and should be compensated more fairly.
Whelan does not believe the current system will change through conventional politics, Democratic or Republican. The way Whelan sees it, “there is no political will to change it because politicians are tied to corporate money.” And so, in response, Whelan hopes to “introduce a new politics and encourage mass movement as the only real way to produce change.”