Minimum Wage Should Be Regionally Graduated

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Published on: 2013.11.22

As workers and Democrats continue to ask for a minimum wage increase (recently fueled by a Walmart food drivefor its own employees — and a McDonald’s suggestion that employees sell their possessions), I still haven’t seen anyone point out how nonsensical a national minimum wage is.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the minimum wage has to go up occasionally; otherwise prices rise while salaries don’t and too many working people slip into poverty. But as I mentioned in another entry, the cost of living varies so dramatically from one part of the country to the next that having the same minimum wage for the entire nation is almost foolhardy.

I am interested in and curious about suggestions to bind the minimum wage somehow to inflation (or to CEO salaries), but that still makes a New York City worker poor and an Oklahoma City worker not-so-poor.

If you’re bound-and-determined to work a minimum wage job — or have little choice — try to do it in an area where it’s cheaper to live. For example, Midwest City, Okla., where the median home price is $76,000 and the cost of living is the lowest in the nation. Or an even smaller city a little further from a metroplex.

One reason I was long able to survive while earning minimum wage was that I lived in places like Jacksonville, Ark., or Seminole, Okla., where I could get an apartment for less than a third of the cost of some larger cities, and where I could walk to work if I had to (in Jacksonville, I walked almost exclusively).

On minimum wage stories, I often see comments like this one:

“Actually minimum wage jobs are not to serve as jobs for the bread winners of a family. Minimum wage jobs are for teenagers, retirees, people wanting 2nd jobs, etc. …”

That might have been true at one time. But the same people who make those comments will also say of unemployed persons: “You can find a job if you look hard enough”, referring to McDonald’s and Walmart. And it’s the same crowd that’s against more government money going toward college educations. They can’t have it all three ways.

But back to my topic, I’m sure someone brighter than me — and more knowledgeable about the economy — can find a way to regionally graduate the minimum wage to make sense for a nation as broad and varied as ours.

◊ Addendum, 2013.11.24

I don’t, however, think that minimum wage should be a state-by-state thing (though each state, city, etc. is welcome to set their own, higher standard). There’s no reason for 51+ different minimum wage laws, just like there’s no reason to have 51 different driver license designs or 51 different license plate divisions. Surely one federal minimum wage law could encompass the various regional differences in cost of living.

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