How High Can You Go?

Last Call


The Town of Hilton Head Island and the town of Bluffton should raise compensation to a living wage — and Beaufort County businesses should follow suit. 

I know some of you cringe hearing me say that, but hear me out.

First, let’s consider the facts:

The federal minimum wage is set by the U.S. labor law and was last adjusted in 2009 to $7.25 per hour. States and cities have the ability to set their own standards, and 28 states have a higher minimum wage. Seattle was the first city to raise pay to $15 per hour and many cities have followed its lead.

Corporations can voluntarily pay their hourly employees a higher wage; for example, Amazon recently set its minimum hourly rate at $15.

The federal minimum wage has not kept up with inflation; it would have to be somewhere between $12 and $19 an hour, depending on when you start adjusting and what inflation calculator is used. South Carolina follows the federal rate of $7.25 per hour.

Now let’s move to the general arguments.

lastcall jan19

For most people, $7.25 per hour is not a living wage.Working 40 hours a week would generate a monthly income of $1,160 a month. This simply does not cover housing, food, transportation, medical, clothing, etc.

If a person is willing and capable of working and they can’t make a living wage, they will depend on social programs to survive. Welfare programs are paid for by taxes. That makes my capitalistic argument is simple: If we want to reduce social programs, we need to give everybody a chance to make a living wage.

It’s the moral thing to do. In order for capitalism to thrive, the tide needs to lift all boats.

Raising the minimum wage is good for the economy. Additional income earned will channel back into spending. It’s also good for crime rates and the reduction of drug abuse. And it’s good for social justice: A citizen who feels respected is a more productive member of society.

And really, we’re already paying for a higher hourly wage — just indirectly through taxes, funding social programs that help make up the difference between what low-income jobs pay and what people need to survive.

And I don’t support corporations taking advantage of a minimum wage in order to enrich management and their shareholders while putting the burden on taxpayers. I’d rather pay $10.85 for my lunch instead of $10 knowing that the person cooking, cleaning or serving is paid a living wage — based on the assumption that labor constitutes 25 percent of the cost and labor cost increases 33 percent.

Capitalism teaches us that everything is based on supply and demand and that wages would adjust accordingly if there was nobody willing to work for less. However, that has not proven to be true. Corporations will find every loophole in the system to increase their profits — which, granted, is their goal — if a tax-funded federal or state support system is in place to make up for the lack of a living wage.

Why should our towns and businesses make a move?

We are all aware of the lack of affordable housing on Hilton Head — and, increasingly, in Bluffton — forcing thousands of workers to deal with long commutes and traffic jams and causing labor shortages for businesses. It makes sense to address opportunities to create affordable housing units, along with alternate routes to the island. However, one fairly simple additional measure that can be taken immediately is to vote to raise the minimum wage to $15, like so many other municipalities have done with no negative impact on their economies. Furthermore, it should be our goal to make the Lowcountry the best place to live, work, visit and retire, and raising the minimum wage would be an important practical measure to signal to the world that we are a progressive, quality-minded region that is planning for the future — not just the now.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Marc Frey – media entrepreneur