At some point early in our working lives, we all probably earned the minimum wage. While the intent of the minimum wage was to create a “minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general wellbeing of workers”(1), we all know that this wage is typically one that doesn't allow financial freedom. It's not uncommon for a minimum wage worker to have two or more jobs just to make ends meet.
This is the basis for the recent protests by fast-food workers who want the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour. If this happens, how likely is it that the “dollar menu” would be replaced by a “five-dollar menu?” Wouldn't these businesses be forced to pass wage increases along to consumers? Thus, the potential increase in minimum wage would be negated by an increase in prices for those products as well as many others.
Here’s my concern with this potential increase. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2012 median pay for EMTs and paramedics is listed at $14.91 an hour(2). This may have increased slightly in the last two years, but in essence, the median pay for people charged with saving lives would be equivalent to, or potentially less than, the person who says, “Welcome to your favorite fast food restaurant. How may I help you?”
Firefighters are only slightly better at a 2012 median pay of $21.75 an hour, according to the Department of Labor(2).
So, if the minimum wage changes for fast food workers, is it going to change for emergency services workers as well? Is your agency prepared to deal with increased salary costs should this occur? How are you going to finance it? Should we even have to think about this or have this discussion?
Truthfully, we should be paying our workers, and especially our EMTs and paramedics, a living wage that exceeds the minimum standard of living. Our EMTs and paramedics, along with our firefighters, shouldn’t have to work a second or third job just to get by.
However, we know that this is a fact, and we’ve not done anything about it—sometimes by choice, sometimes not.
Yes, the economy does come into play, but I’m pretty sure that even in the poorest areas of our country, doctors, attorneys, bankers and many others are all making considerably more than minimum wage.
Ultimately, until our society accepts that EMTs and paramedics are more than just ambulance drivers and firefighters don’t sit around playing cards while waiting for the next call, we'll continue to struggle with pay.
We need to continue to educate the public about what we do, work within the healthcare industry to ensure a living wage isn't set to a minimum standard and strive to take care of those who run in while others run away. Otherwise, we may have people who decide to leave fire and EMS so that they, too, can earn the minimum wage.