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Is a $15 minimum wage for real?

Workers in Philadelphia rally for a $15 minimum wage.


The good news in Philadelphia this weekend is that after the city -- in baffling fashion -- ignored a year of protests from coast to coast by fast-food employees and other low-wage workers, we finally saw a lively protest in favor of a $15 minimum wage. About 75 people, according to news accounts, protested on the busy fast-food corner at 10th and Market in favor of a living wage.

"Because if you're working for $7.25, you usually don't have a lot leftover to have stable housing, beautify your neighborhoods," says Activist Seth DiMartile.

DiMartile makes $8.50 an hour at Boston Market. He says he hopes people change their thinking.

"Because so many of the workers who work for these wages actually have to be on food stamps to make ends meet," DiMartile said. "Walmart actually has a program to help their workers sign up for benefits, which is outrageous if someone is employed full-time."

Is a $15-an-hour minimum wage fair? Absolutely, when you compare what today's worker earns in comparison to how the cost of living has risen since the 1960s, and steep gains in productivity. Is it politically feasible? Not in 2014, not really. But this is a process -- it's smart for workers to remind folks what they're really worth while the politicians grapple over what can be achieved, perhaps the $10.10 number sought by President Obama.

The Saturday's Fight for 15 rally was part of a nationwide effort (linked to International Women's Day, because such a high number of minimum wage workers are female) and was sponsored here by, among others. the SEIU, Temple students and a newish group called Socialist Alternative. OK, I know what you're thinking -- if Philadelphia's not ready for a $15 minimum wage, it's definitely not ready for activism with the word "socialism" in it. I get that -- personally I think that while a stronger public role is needed in areas like health care and higher education, a fair private free market still works best in areas like technology or commerce or, dare I say it, the media.

On the other hand, millions of American workers in fields such as fast food, medical centers and retail have been on the short end of the stick for decades, as CEOs and their shareholders have taken advantage of the collapse of the labor movement to undertake the greatest cash grab in history, and create unprecedented income inequality.

Do you know who's paying for that? You, the taxpayer -- who has to step in provide aid like food stamps just so these gainfully employed folks can feed their kids. (Just raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would save taxpayers an estimated $4.6 billion every year!.) Can you believe the nerve of these CEOs?...paying themselves $10- or  $20- or $30 million a year and adding another wing to their mansion in Palm Beach while sticking YOU with the bill for their workers' meals.

The minimum wage is an easy and fair way to restore balance. I don't know if supporting that makes one a socialist. All I know is that it's something American can't afford not to do.