I took part in a very interesting conversation the other day regarding the “Fight for 15” movement. Some friends and I were discussing Chicago’s increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour, which took effect as of July 1. There were a variety of opinions regarding this change. While those who were making $8.25 will see an increase in pay, those who were already making $10 an hour have suddenly become minimum wage earners at the same time. The new city law has helped one group and hurt another. 

There was a plethora of opinions about the changes. The question I posed was whether or not those the increase was supposed to help will truly get helped by it? When the salary was $8.25 an hour, the pool of applicants wasn’t very diverse. Now that the starting salary is $10 an hour, the competition pool has just gotten larger with individuals who previously had thumbed their noses at some jobs now willing to work those same jobs because of the increased salary. 

A high school graduate will have to compete against a better-educated college student for a McDonald’s job, for example. Suburban youths who snubbed the idea of working in the city may decide it isn’t such a bad option after all. Or, as McDonald’s has been doing overseas, they will begin replacing the order takers with a kiosk machine where all you have to do is pick your selections, pay by cash or credit card and go to the counter and get your order. Self-service cashiers are now pretty common in grocery stores, so the move to the fast food industry is inevitable. 

As we continued talking, I added a new dimension. If the city or state really wants to help low-wage workers, employers should be mandated to pay them weekly. I began reminiscing about when I worked a job that for nearly 25 years paid me weekly. During those years, I got paid every Thursday. It was a joy to spend all my money over the weekend knowing full well that each Monday meant the start of a countdown until Thursday’s payroll. 

Whether or not the minimum wage should be $15 for unskilled labor, if government truly wants to help low-wage workers, then making companies pay weekly puts money into those workers’ hands a lot sooner than waiting an extra week to be paid every other Friday. Even worse are those who have to wait to get compensated on the 15th and 30th of each month.

I joked that if employers didn’t pay hourly laborers their money in a timely fashion (weekly) and if all labor had value, then why shouldn’t employers be forced to pay us interest on our labor when those laborers toil for them for 80 hours and then have to wait a week or two to get paid for that labor? That, I proffered, was the most sensible solution. I often read about how business makes interest on money, moving it or using it at exact times so it is always earning interest for them. 

How come the average worker can’t enjoy a similar luxury? When people are struggling to live from week to week, why isn’t government making that struggle easier instead of more difficult? 

It would be pleasant to have a law that helped the ordinary citizen rather than one that is punitive to them.