Making minimum wage "work"

I recently read a post by a blogger who did a little exercise to see if he could survive on minimum wage. He chose a location of Hartford, CT, and used the state's minimum wage of $7.65. He assumed a forty hour work week, which equaled an income of about $1,224 a month. He then went down his list of expenses and determined that he couldn't survive on minimum wage. His conclusion: Minimum wage doesn't work.

The debate about minimum wage is largely pointless, because there are so few adults who actually are paid minimum wage. But I'll play along and pretend that lots and lots of adults are trying to survive on minimum wage. Is the problem with the wage or the people? I say the people.

First, if you're being paid minimum wage, it means that you have next to no skills and probably no work experience. You're probably unreliable and you probably have a spotty work history. Why should an employer pay for your lack of skills? Minimum wage shouldn't be a goal for anyone. It should be a starting point that can quickly be surpassed if one is willing to show up, work hard, and develop skills. Talk to any business owner, and nine times out of ten, I bet you will find that they'd be happy to pay more than minimum wage if they could find suitable employees.
The next part of the minimum wage debate deals with families. How on earth can someone support a family on minimum wage? The simple answer is that minimum wage doesn't support families and those who are earning minimum wage ought to wait to have children. It's a simple concept. If you can't support a family, you don't have one.

But what if you've already got the family and now you're stuck trying to make a go of it on minimum wage? You do what many families have done throughout the years. You work more and you make sacrifices. Maybe mom and dad both need to get jobs, alternating shifts so that the children are always cared for. Maybe the person earning minimum wage needs to work more than one job. Forty hours a week of work should be considered a minimum when there are mouths to feed. There are many more hours in the week that can be worked, and I've seen plenty of people work 60 or 70 hours a week when it was necessary for survival.

The simple truth is that those who want to support their families and themselves can do so if they're willing to work. And if they're willing to add to their repertoire of skills, they can earn more over time if they prove to be a valuable employee. So don't cry about minimum wage. Anyone who really wants to move beyond it has every opportunity to do so.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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