Like millions of Americans, my first job was working at a fast-food restaurant for the minimum wage, or $3.35 an hour at the time. Like millions of Americans, that was also the first and last time I earned the minimum wage.
The truth is that among workers over age 25, less than one percent are earning the minimum wage. Why? The more we learn, the more we earn. The average income of minimum wage employees increases 30 percent within one year of employment.
But some people want more. Several national and local groups are working to place a minimum-wage increase on Arizona's 2006 ballot. Tucson attorney Bob Schwartz, chairman of Arizona's "Five Fifteen Isn't Working," has filed a constitutional amendment with the secretary of state that reads in part: "All working Arizonans are entitled to be paid a minimum wage that is sufficient to provide a decent and healthy life for them and their families." It's time, he says, to "put an end to slave wages."
A minimum wage increase will put an end to one thing: jobs. Wishful thinking won't change the laws of supply and demand. If employees become more expensive, we'll have fewer people working. Consider the admonition of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan: "The reason I object to the minimum wage is I think it destroys jobs, and I think the evidence on that, in my judgment, is overwhelming."
We all start somewhere. An opportunity to work is better than no opportunity at all.