Rise of the low wage workers

Lily Hanafin, Opinions Editor

For the first time in decades, the low wage workers are a part of a reversal of power. In the past, the low wage worker was always dependent on businesses. Workers took low-paying jobs with poor hours, no room for advancement, and no healthcare or other benefits; however, the pandemic changed this. 

In America, there are now more low wage job opportunities than there are people applying. It’s not because there is a labor shortage; people just don’t want to return to bad jobs. Why would anyone want to return to a job where they work hard each day and still can’t even make a living wage? 

This new mindset has caused wages to increase. With fewer people taking low paying jobs, companies have had to increase their pay and offer signing bonuses just to employ workers. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reports that in 2021 the bottom 25% of earners saw their wages increase by 5.1%.

In Illinois, as of January 2022, the state minimum wage is $12 an hour. Looking at jobs in the Chicagoland area, most fast food restaurants and supermarkets are offering around $13.50 an hour to $15 an hour. These companies aren’t offering increased wages just out of the goodness of their hearts. They are being forced to pay higher wages to ensure their companies and restaurants remain open. For years, companies have been getting away with paying their employees as little as possible with almost no negative consequences. Until recently, where many businesses and companies are being forced to raise their wages and offer health benefits to attract employees.

Despite a lower number of people in the labor force and fewer people willing to take low-paying jobs, some companies are still unwilling to pay a living wage. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that the average living wage for a family of two working adults and two children is $16.54 an hour. This is only the United States average living wage, so it is not entirely accurate for a lot of Americans. The living wages in cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago are higher than those in more rural communities. Walmart’s average hourly wage for a cashier is $10.63 and $14.64 per hour for a sales associate, according to Indeed. The Walton’s (owners of Walmart) are the wealthiest family in the world, with a net worth of $238 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. The family has $238 billion and they can’t even pay their workers a living wage. It’s disgusting that they profit off the labor of their underpaid employees and can’t even have a starting salary of $20 per hour. 

While billionaires are busy with their billionaire space race, hard-working, low-wage workers in America are struggling to pay their rent and put food on their table. They deserve a living wage along with healthcare benefits, and it’s encouraging to see that many companies are moving in that direction. 

As a country, we have been so dependent on low wage workers that we must continue to fight to give them what they deserve.