Wage isn’t the answer, skills are

Miguel Felix. Courtesy photo

By Miguel Felix

Increasing the minimum wage will not raise people out of poverty.

A common idea is that workers who earn higher minimum wages benefit more by receiving more income. Well, it is not so cut and dry; there is a lot of grey area within that claim.

A study was conducted in the state of Washington to see how a higher minimum wage would help workers.

In Seattle, the state-mandated minimum wage was $9.47 until 2015, where it rose to $11.00 an hour. Later, in 2016, the minimum wage rose again to $13.00 an hour. It sounds like a good thing, but again, the concept isn’t as simple as commonly perceived.

The study tried to answer what we can see from the increase in wages.
It found that, though the workers saw a rise in wages per hour, they lost an average of 9% in hours worked. Employer’s total payroll fell, reducing worker’s net pay by $125 per month, on average, in 2016. This suggests that, due to the increase in wages, employers cut hours to compensate for the increase, since payroll budgets remain the same.

So, should we lower wages so that more people can make more net income?

No, that isn’t the right direction either. The problem with this study is that researchers were unable to have a one-to-one correlation with hourly wage and earnings. The study pulled information from Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD), meaning the researchers can only gather so much information. The actual wages for workers are not public, they are estimated “and thus can neither focus precisely on low-wage employment nor examine impacts of policies on wages themselves.”

Making broad policies for people that don’t solve the problem is an excellent example of a bad idea. The primary demographic of the study were teenagers, and those teens do not have either education, vocational skills, or work experience to rely upon to get a good position.

The problem is not low wages; the real issue is that individuals lack skills. Individuals in the labor market who want to land that high-income job need high-income skills. Workers who can confront a problem, think it through, and apply a solution will be better off than workers who give up. Workers who can get ideas across clearly and engage with others effectively will open many doors.

I think it’s less about what we pay people, and more about personal skills that people need to incorporate to be better workers.

Workers can gain experience and skills by joining organizations or volunteering in their community. As a student at FSW, joining student organizations has been beneficial for networking and learning new skills.

Smaller day-to-day tasks can be taught over time, but if someone can’t stand to work with you, both of your work lives will be miserable. Teaching people critical-thinking skills and teamwork can make group projects go swimmingly. Employers want someone who can collaborate well with a variety of people.

Technical skills are also not out of the question. If someone wants to be a civil engineer, they better know how to build bridges safely. People seeking employment should know or have a base skillset to be productive in their respective fields. Specific skills are going to change from job to job, like making sandwiches at Subway, or handing out food at a restaurant, which is just part of the experience of working.

Many skills people acquire are transferable, so if you gain some knowledge, you can always hold onto that and use it later on down the line.

Applying for an entry level job with a higher starting pay should not be the end of someone’s job prospects. There needs to be a cultivation for personal and professional development to become a great candidate in the labor market, and that all starts from us, the workers.

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