This article, instead, will focus on the second, and far worse, common argument: Hey, the minimum wage was good enough when I was a kid!
We addressed this on Thursday in response to several senators who used some variant of the argument to explain why they didn’t see a minimum-wage increase as necessary. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), for example, spoke with nostalgia about when he earned $6 an hour at a restaurant. This would have been in about 1979, when $6 an hour had the same overall spending power as almost $23 when adjusted for inflation.
That’s the thing that people are quick to forget. Inflation happens subtly enough that our past experiences can blur into and distort our current understanding of what things might cost. I still remember having a job in high school that involved a lot of stamp-buying; to this day, my default assumption is that a postage stamp costs a quarter, which it does not. (And now you know when I was in high school.)
For that article about the senators, we made a tool that allowed you (and, hopefully, some of them) to see how costs for things had changed since they were teenagers. It explored the shift in the value of the minimum wage on two dimensions: the overall change in the value of the wage and the way inflation has affected different costs in different ways. For example, the cost of clothing has not risen quickly, a function of an increasingly globalized manufacturing system that keeps costs low (or, really, shifts costs elsewhere). The cost of medical care, though, has increased dramatically.
This seemed like a useful tool for everyone to explore. So we created a version of it using the same data, which allows you to enter any birth year from 1930 to 2002 and see how the spending power of the minimum wage changed for teenagers born in that year relative to a teenager now.
In what year were you born?
At the bottom is a link allowing you to share your selected year on social media. Right-click on it to copy the URL, or, if you’re on a phone, press and hold it until the copy tool appears.
Share it as you see fit. Perhaps you have a senator who thinks that his or her ability to pay for college on the minimum wage in 1960 is a strong argument to keep the minimum wage where it is now. Feel free to send them the link.