Real Wage Enhancements

We understand the outcry for a higher minimum wage in America today. The intent is a compassionate one, but the fact is, the “real wage” (spending power) and not the minimum wage, is the real problem for most workers today.


Here’s an open secret that doesn’t get a lot of attention: “The minimum will always be the minimum — no matter what level the minimum wage is set at.”

The minimum wage, by definition, is the very least an employer can legally pay their employees (our customers and clients). Should that really be anyone’s goal in the workplace — to be at the minimum? And is that really what career development professionals should be advising their clients to do: “Go out and use your time, talents, and energy to find that perfect, minimum wage job?”

Of course, not!


In general, business and manufacturers set prices based on what they perceive they can get for a product or service in the marketplace. If (and when) the minimum wage goes up, so too will the price of goods and services. The rationale is simple: “If there’s more money available in the marketplace, they can charge and get higher prices.”

The outcome of a minimum wage increase is almost always higher prices. And the ones who lose in the end are the minimum wage workers. That’s because the raise in minimum wage had little or no increase on their “real wage” (buying power).


Career development professionals are at the center of the debate, whether we realize it or not. We should be promoting strategies with our clients and customers that help them get ahead based on real wage growth. We don’t have to become “politicos” to do this.

This dynamic change starts when we realize that increased buying power (real wages) doesn’t happen among any group of people focused on the minimum as their career wage. But when the conversation shifts to increasing real wages, our clients and customers encounter an exciting, new vision for a wage that goes beyond the minimum and has the potential to keep growing. That’s when meaningful progress is really made in the workforce.


If we want our customers and clients to enjoy an increase in their real wages, we have to help them cultivate a lifestyle that moves them beyond minimum wage careers. This happens through skills enhancement, establishing and maintaining a strong work history, and developing a pattern of lifelong learning in their careers.


Lobbying to raise the minimum wage is truly a compassionate act. But the problem we identify is the problem we will solve. Is the problem really the minimum wage, or is it the real wage (buying power)?

We need to be keenly aware that a minimum wage focus results in basement careers for the people we serve. We need to be prepared to shift the conversation to improving skills, maintaining a strong work history, and establishing a career that embraces lifelong learning as a vital success strategy.

Let’s do these things so we can make increasing the “real wages” the real goal!