The best idea on raising the minimum wage you’ve never heard of

Australian surf rowers
Australians work hard, and play hard, and benefit from a tiered minimum-wage system.
(Mark Kolbe / Getty Images)

Let’s raise the minimum wage. There, I said it. Out loud. Has the U.S. economy collapsed yet?

Oh, but it will, Republicans say. For proof, they point to such things as the Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday, which said that a hike in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cost about 500,000 jobs.  

Oh no it won’t, Democrats say. For proof, they point to such things as the Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday, which said that a hike in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would results in higher earnings for about 16.5 million low-wage workers.

Seems to me, as was said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”


Actually, the CBO is nonpartisan, so both sides are probably right about the effects of a higher minimum wage.

But stop for a minute. Think. Can’t we all agree that this economy stinks? If we raise wages, more people lose their jobs — and we already have too many people out of work. If we don’t raise wages, people keep their jobs — but ones that don’t pay enough for them to live on.

Sorry, but I just don’t believe that “America, land of the free, home of the brave, where the rich get richer and everyone else bites it” works for most Americans.

There is another way, though. And it comes from the Land Down Under — you know, “Where women glow and men plunder.” (Do they still? Really? I mean the plunder part; I’m sure the women don’t stop glowing just because pirates are a vanishing breed.)


Anyway, this isn’t my idea. Times guest blogger Matthew Fleischer wrote about it in December, when we were also talking about the minimum wage. As he wrote:

“The minimum wage in Australia is $16.37 an hour for working adults, more than double the U.S. federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25.

“More than a few conservative eyeballs probably just bulged out of their sockets seeing that number. Stay with me, though, because here’s where things get interesting: For 19-year-olds in Australia, the minimum wage is $13.51. For 17-year-olds, it’s $9.46. For 15-year-olds, it’s $6.03.”

That’s right. If we “speak Australian” on this issue, we can have our cake (you GOP Marie Antoinettes) and eat it too (you spread-the-wealth Democrats).

But here, let me have Fleischer explain the benefits (again):

“Were we to establish an Australian-style age-based sliding minimum wage in America, companies such as McDonald’s would naturally look to hire younger, cheaper laborers for entry-level positions, giving them a taste of working life. Teenagers would see their pay automatically rise as they got older and more experienced, which would serve as an incentive for them to stay on the job rather than flaking at the first sign of frustration….

“Entry-level jobs would go to entry-level workers.

“At the same time, a $15 hourly minimum wage for older workers would ensure that jobs with responsibilities too tough for teenagers would be fairly compensated.”


Now, I’m no economist. But it makes sense to me. And it seems to be working in Australia too: As Fleischer writes, “McDonald’s Australia earned $260.88 million in 2011 on $1.54 billion in revenue.”

Forget American exceptionalism; I’m not too proud to borrow a good idea. After all, we’ve done it before: We got our language, most of our legal system and some of our style of government from the British. We won our independence with help from the French. We got pizza from the Italians. Hot dogs (maybe) from the Germans.

You get the idea. We can do this. We can think outside the box. We can pay people enough so that full-time folks don’t have to be part of “the working poor,” while also maintaining jobs for entry-level workers.

C’mon, America. Let’s try the Down Under idea — before we go under.


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