1. It requires specialized skills/attributes
One way high wage earners justify their pay is by saying that not everybody could do their job. So since their skill is so rare then they deserve to be paid more. This point of view overlooks the fact that not everybody can do hard labor If you took the CEO of a big restaurant chain and made them work in one of their restaurants’ kitchens for three months they’d all fail. Even out of the general public, there’s a significant percentage of people who don’t have the strength or patience to do the jobs minimum wage earners do.
Go ask any kitchen staff, road crew, farm crew, or retail worker about people they’ve seen work at their job for a week and then burn out from exhaustion or didn’t have the mental fortitude to do their jobs. Those who pass the test will always be able to look each other in the eye and know they had the metal to make it while so many others didn’t. But even though minimum wage earners have attributes and skills just as rare any upper middle class job. Their pay checks don’t reflect this.
2. Compensation for pace
Think of an office romance drama series like Mad Men or a series about lawyers like Suits or just the show The Office. Imagine if the characters ran as fast as they could everywhere they went, and where ever they went they were always very busy with their hands, and they were always racing the clock while pacing themselves so they could last the day. And somebody was always yelling at them and threatening them. It would be funny if it wasn’t true.
The longer and faster you have to work the more you have to commit your total life’s attention on what you’re doing. Some people have slow paced jobs where they can day dream all day, call their friends and family and take long lunches while getting paid very, very well. A lawyer would charge you more for his services if he had to devote his total attention to your case and work as hard as he could none stop for three months straight. But field hands, cooks at chain restaurants and warehouse staff don’t get paid any extra for how totally they have to devote themselves to their jobs.
3. Compensation for inevitable injuries
If you do anything as fast as you can for nine hours a day for a lifetime you’re going to hurt yourself. Just lifting files or typing will give you crippling hand aches in old age. Lifting heavy bags and boxes will take its toll immediately. When you do minimum wage it’s not a matter of if you’ll develop some kind of health problem, it’s a matter of which one you’ll get. And since millions of minimum wage jobs involve handling poisonous material, a lot of people are guaranteed to die from work related illnesses.
It’s bad enough that people are dying from work related injuries, but they’re suffering here and now in very real, very graphic ways. Any fry cook can tell you a few stories about burns and cuts they’ve seen kitchen staff get. There are millions of people in the world who have stitch marks on their bodies from on the job injuries they got while working for minimum wage, but they don’t get any compensation. Their employers don’t even offer them health care. If you asked the employer why, they would probably tell you that the accident was the employee’s fault. Even if that were true, these injuries are statistical inevitabilities. If you put 90 million human beings in kitchens around the world working as fast as they can all day for three months cooking over hot stoves, slinging boiling liquids and chopping things with sharp knives, you’re going to end up with millions of injuries. You can repeat the experiment as many times as you want, there will always be injuries. So going to work is like playing the lottery. You might be one of the unlucky ones who fate has doomed. And when that inevitable day comes for some man, woman or child, their employer will probably find some valid excuse for why they don’t have help the person who won the doom lottery inherent in minimum wage work.
4. Compensation for degradation of off duty time
A lawyer would charge you a premium if he had to work all day every day as fast as he can for three months. A lawyer would probably raise that fee after a week after he realizes that working that hard and that long doesn’t leave you any energy to enjoy your free time after work, and in fact, he was probably spending all his evenings just trying to recuperate from the day’s work while prepping himself for another day of marathon work tomorrow. I’m sure a lawyer could write a fantastic explanation of why they should be compensated extra if their professional work degrades the quality of their personal time. So far no lawyer has done minimum wage workers the favour of writing an explanation of why they deserve extra compensation for not being able to fully enjoy their free time.
If a lawyer worked as fast as possible for three months he could pamper himself all along the way with good meals, healthy snacks, massages and a big vacation at the end. Minimum wage earners can’t afford any of that. They don’t get to stop at cafes on the way to work. They have a hard time getting sick days, let alone vacation days. And for them, it’s not just three months. It’s their fate in life. That’s why poor people drink and smoke so much. Their life is fucked. There’s no hope for them. In hopeless times humans tend to turn to religion or hedonism for relief. If minimum wage earners got paid more I predict you would see a decrease in religion and hedonism. Think about that. Minimum wage jobs are so miserable they force people to turn to God or slow, euphoric suicide to cope. That’s morally fucked up. That’s an atrocity. That’s the kind of thing that generations from now, our descendants will look back on us and say, “Damn, that generation was stupid and backwards. I’m sure glad we’re not that shamefully stupid and cruel now.” So how about we not be that stupid and cruel now? How about we compensate minimum wage earners for losing their personal lives. Better yet, let’s not take away their personal lives to begin with.
5. Compensation for humiliation
Some lawyers get to pick and choose their clients and their price. If a prospective client insults the lawyer or is obviously going to be a pain in the ass to deal with, the lawyer could charge the client extra to make it worth his time. Minimum wage earners get yelled at constantly by bosses and customers. Everyone is allowed to tear them down and use them as punching bags, and the minimum wage earner has to just stand there, wearing a demeaning company uniform and endure emotional and sometimes physical abuse from the people they have to spend almost every day of their life with.
There’s been a lot of research done on the topic of classical conditioning and bullying. If you insult someone and humiliate them every day, they’re going suffer. It’s immoral to do that to somebody. It’s downright sadistic to do that to somebody and then tell them that they have to come back every day for the foreseeable future and endure the same emotional abuse while smiling and pretending like it’s the happiest day of their life, and if they can’t maintain constant perfect bearing they’ll be thrown out into the streets to starve and die in the rain. That’s as messed up as the plot to The Human Centipede 2. If you’re going to have to spend your life eating other people’s shit you should get some kind of compensation for that. Better yet, maybe we should stop sewing retail employee’s mouths to the customer’s asses or giving bosses god-like authority to bully employees.
6. Compensation for investment of labor
You can’t build a company with capital. Investors who provide employers with start up capital expect a return on their investment, and everyone agrees that this is entirely reasonable. However, you can’t build a company without labour either, and the workers who invest the irreplaceable seconds of their lives at work don’t get dividends. They just get the lowest pay check legally allowable and a kick in the ass the day they quit, get fired, their contract ends, the company goes bankrupt or gets bought out.
If you invest a few thousand dollars in a company at the right time you can get millions of dollars in return. You can invest a few thousand hours of your life in a company, and you won’t even get a thank you card. You have to be a complete sociopath to think that’s okay.
7. It’s the decent thing to do
Why should we pay minimum wage workers more? Because it’s the decent thing to do. That’s why. That’s all that should have to be said. Everybody knows it would make minimum wage workers’ lives better if they worked shorter hours and were paid a higher percentage of company profits. It would make people happier, and we would live in a happier society. That’s what the world is supposed to be like. Are we not good people? At least, don’t we want to be good people? Well… let’s be good to the people holding up the pillars of our economy.
Even if you’re a complete sociopath who doesn’t care about anybody else but yourself and you look at the world through a cold, calculating perspective, you should still want to raise the minimum wage, because the empirical cost/benefit analysis of economic oppression didn’t add up.