A new push for higher minimum wages is sweeping across America, with New York City on the path toward joining Seattle and San Francisco with a $15 per hour standard. Last month, dozens of workers in Miami marched to demand that South Florida do the same.
But even among the lowest of low-paying jobs, not all markets are equal in America. And Miami's lowest paid workers are among the worst paid in the entire nation. That's what the New York Times found this morning in a new study looking at what a $15 minimum might mean to local economies around the U.S.
To analyze the growing push for minimum wage hikes, the Times Noam Schieber used a handy economic tool: The median wage, a measure of what the average worker smack in the middle of the city's income bracket makes. Economists contrast that figure with the minimum wage, and — by most estimations — hope to find a ratio where the minimum is somewhere around 50 percent of the median.
In cities that have already enacted $15 minimum wages — including Seattle and San Fran — that's basically what they found. In other words, the average middle-of-the-charts worker in San Francisco makes about $25 per hour; nearly exactly a 50 percent boost from the $15 minimum there.
So where does Miami's median wage land? Amazingly, it's the only big market the Times studied where the median — again, the average right in the middle of the pay scale — is actually below $15. Miami's median wage came to $14.93.
In other words, a $15 minimum wage in Miami wouldn't just lift the lowest-paid workers — it would jolt the whole pay scale all the way up to the middle-of-the-pack.
Fast food workers strike recently for a $15 minimum wage.
Photo by Steve Rhodes, Creative Commons license
Only New Orleans and Las Vegas — both cities, like Miami, with big service industry sectors that typically pay very low wages — came close to that median wage average.
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So what does that mean for the fight for fair wages? The numbers certainly don't suggest that Miami's industry should stand pat with it's $8.05 minimum wage. The basic argument for a raised minimum — namely, that workers literally can't live on those wages even when working full time — are more true in South Florida than almost anywhere. Other studies have clearly demonstrated that link, including one from the Census Bureau last fall that found Miami's median income the second lowest in the nation and its poverty rates — by no coincidence — as the second highest.
But the Times study does suggest that an abrupt jump to $15 could be more than a service-sector economy like Miami could handle; a more gradual build-up that wouldn't result in mass job layoffs might be more prudent in the short term.
Either way, it's hard to look at Miami's numbers and conclude that the current minimum wage — holding firm despite housing and transportation prices skyrocketing — makes any kind of sense at all.