The years-long debate over adequate minimum wages has become globally heated over the past several months, and many Swiss laborers hoped they would become the world's highest earners. Alas, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a nationwide increase May 18 that would have set the Alpine nation's minimum wage at $25 an hour. More than 76 percent of voters opposed the Decent Salary Initiative, which would have had the greatest affect on immigrants working in fields such as agriculture, housekeeping and catering.
The Swiss vote came just days after fast-food workers from more than 30 countries, including the United States, staged nationwide protests demanding higher wages. The food-industry employees called for pay of $15 an hour-more than double the current U.S. minimum wage of $7.25.
And although Swiss workers won't see their minimum wage increase, residents of the vastly liberal city of Seattle won't face similar disappointment. The Washington metropolis will soon phase in a drastic increase in its minimum wage to $15 per hour, benefiting almost 100,000 workers. Currently, about 30 percent of all Seattle jobs pay less than $15 an hour.
The Seattle increase, as well as other city-wide minimum wage increases around the nation, follow President Barack Obama's early-2014 plea to Congress to raise the hourly minimum wage to $10.10. Doing so would raise the minimum annual salary for a full-time worker to $20,000; enough to keep a family of three out of poverty.
Even at its current level, the U.S. minimum wage is vastly better than most of the world, ranking No. 7 on the Economist's 2012 Big Mac Index, which ranks minimum wages around the world. What the scale doesn't necessarily reveal, however, is how far America has fallen in terms of its living standards in recent years. According to a 2012 London School of Economics report, the United States ranks 15th in terms of nations with the "best living standards" for citizens. And a 2014 quality of life survey by Mercer, doesn't include any U.S. cities among its top five. In fact, a recent report by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich showed that, according to government statistics since the 1980s, the median American worker has receive no pay increase when adjusted for inflation. And EPI's The State of Working America, 12th Edition found that "during the Great Recession and its aftermath, wages fell for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution, despite productivity growth of 7.7 percent."
It's important to remember that strictly comparing minimum wages across different countries is as insufficient as comparing apples and oranges. Although Australia has the world's highest minimum wage - at $16 an hour - it's also vastly more expensive to live Down Under. Therefore, $16 in Australia doesn't buy as much as it would in the United States. In fact, when you adjust Australia's minimum wage for buying power, that $16 is worth about $9.77 - still higher than U.S. minimum wage earners currently make, but less than the wage President Obama has proposed. When adjusting for purchasing power, the United States actually ranks ninth in the world, while the highest "real" minimum wage is paid in Luxembourg at $10.37 per hour.
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