We at Ring of Fire frequently post news about the ongoing Fight for a $15 hourly minimum wage. Given the enormous increases in the costs of basic necessities like food and housing, it’s really not enough. Taking all factors into consideration – not only inflation, but increases in productivity and worker expectations – the current minimum wage should be around $22.50. That’s extrapolating from a study three years ago from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (the figure given at that time was $21. 72).

One city in the nation – Seattle, Washington – is mandating an $11 an hour minimum wage for many workers this summer. The nation’s capital takes the #2 spot at $10.50. Nonetheless, even $11 an hour works out to only $22,880 a year. That’s still more than $1,300 below the federal poverty line for a family of four. $15 an hour brings that figure up to $31,200. With average rents on a two-bedroom apartment running from $3,300 to nearly $4,000 in cities like New York and San Francisco, it’s still not enough for one person to support a family, however.

Nonetheless, it’s a place to start. And for many, it makes all the difference in the world.  In a recent statement before the New York Wage Board, thirty-five-year-old single mother and McDonald’s employee Amanda Monroe said, “I’m not expecting to get rich off of $15 an hour…just the ability to survive and take care of my family.”

People who work and do things for society deserve more than just “survive.” They deserve to “thrive.” It’s ironic that the same politicians and pundits who are constantly yelling about “family values” are often the same ones who think it’s perfectly acceptable for those families to have to live in poverty. They have no problem with workers who are barely able to make it from one paycheck to the next, sacrificing precious time with their children and spouses in order to serve a bloated, corporate machine, whose lordly masters wallow in luxury.

Along with the myriad other issues tied to gross and inexcusable inequality in the U.S., it is the recipe for rebellion – which history teaches us rarely turns out well.

$15 – or more – per hour is an investment. Businesses that pay their workers more generously have discovered this. Companies that pay higher wages find that it reduces turnover (employee training being a major expense), increases productivity (happy, non-stressed employees are better workers) and reduces “shrinkage” (employee theft).  It’s an investment in society as well. People with more money to spend support retailers and service providers, stimulating the overall economy. It’s something that Henry Ford understood 90 years ago when he paid his workers the then-unheard-of wage of $5 a day (about $70 in present-day dollars) so they could purchase the automobiles they were building. It also means fewer working people having to turn to tax-payer funded assistance programs when their paychecks won’t cover the basics of life. It means more time for family – something that, by itself, would have profound effects on society. It means better nutrition and more time for people to take care of themselves, thereby reducing health care costs.  The list goes on and on.

The bottom line: the “Fight for $15” isn’t just about the workers. It’s about all of us.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.