Thursday, May 7, 2015

Slave Labor and Raising the U.S. Minimum Wage

It might take a little longer than expected, but more and more politicians are coming out of the minimum wage closet and endorsing drastic raises for both local and national minimum wage that millions of Americans get paid. The most recent being Andrew Cuomo who said in an Op-ed NYTimes piece that his wage hike will go to $9 by the end of 2015 but that he proposed $11.50 and got rejected by the Legislature.

Minimum wage was started by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 as a means to end outright poverty in America, but many Americans still cannot keep up with the fast increasing cost of living in places like New York City, San Francisco, and Boston. Most minimum wage opponents will tell you that they cannot successfully run their businesses if they must pay more to their workers than they already are while supporters of the minimum wage claim (perhaps rightfully so) that without it we pave the way for slave labor. A good example of this debate was seen in the movie The Big One where Nike CEO Phil Knight claims that "Americans don't want to make shoes" when Michael Moore asks why Nike pays just $4 a day to teenage girls in Indonesia instead of paying Americans a minimum wage. Unfortunately, we don't get to hear the whole truth from Knight on the subject, but it's most likely more about turning a profit. After all, if someone told you that the cost of making 10 pairs of shoes would be a total of $5 per pair and you knew you could sell the shoes for $150, you probably wouldn't think twice about taking that deal.

Perhaps the saddest part about the debate is how slave labor has become the butt of jokes from people who typically come off as liberal, such as comedian Louis CK when he told Jay Leno a story how his daughter would eat the bubblegum flavored medicine:

You don't get to say 'ewe'! You wear clothes made by kids your age professionally!
When the realities of salve labor become so horrific and out of the control of the public, we start to feel so powerless and depressed that the only way to cope with it is to make jokes.

There are things you can do to help, however. Raising awareness is the most effective way of pushing a boycott of slave labor-backed products. Buying American-made products only causes sales to go down for the big companies like Nike and Reebok. You can also get involved in the fight against slave labor, as well as voting for minimum wage hikes by getting in touch with organizations like, Free2Work, and Raise The Minimum Wage.