The minimum wage – what’s that got to do with STEM?

President Obama’s fifth State Of the Union  address featured several plans to stimulate the economy.  But none of them were so direct and so essential as the proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hr to $9/hr.

So now my readers are scratching their heads and asking “What on earth does that have to do with STEM fields.”  To that I would say “plenty”.

Let’s talk salaries – more particularly, lets talk salaries for graduate students and post-docs.  In the life sciences, post-docs doing critical  research in areas such as vaccine production, cancer research and infectious disease are pulling down under $40,000 a year.  At $35,000 that’s $673/week.  Since most post-docs are working over 60 hours a week that adds up to a little over $11/hour.   Now, I think most would agree that that’s nothing short of miserable compensation for someone who has obtained a doctoral degree that took about 8 years of post-graduate training.   But, with the minium wage  stuck an even more miserable  $7.25/hour, that $11/hour represents  roughly a 50% increase above the minimum.  But at $9/hour – the $11/hour that post-docs make is harder to justify.

In other words, our artificially low minimum wage has been used to justify  gross inequity that goes right to the heart of income inequality.  This includes the so-called lucrative STEM fields.  When salaries are suppressed across the board, they  give rise to abuse across the board.  Raising the minimum wage lifts all boats – and it does so from the bottom up which is crucial  to correcting the gaping hole of income inequality that is poisoning our country.  It doesn’t just help the lowest paid workers, it acts like a tonic on the bottom 47% of the ladder by raising the floor.

So yes, – raise the minimum wage.   It should be more like $12/hour, but I’ll settle for $9/hour. The fact that people with doctoral degrees in STEM fields are on the bottom rungs of the food chain is also a problem with enormous implications.  But that is a topic for another discussion.

© 2013 – RGHicks –  – All rights reserved.


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