The political cartoon, “Minimum Wage,” was created by Monte Wolverton and published in The Cagle Post on April 21, 2013; it depicts the helpless nature of the lower and middle classes in terms of the attempt to raise the minimum wage in the United States as well as the superiority that the upper class possesses. Similarly, John Francis Knott’s 1933 political cartoon, “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More,” parallels the issues of inadequate wages, the contrast between the upper and lower classes, and poverty. Wolverton’s cartoon – in combination with Knott’s cartoon and related contemporary articles – brings to light the manner with which the term ‘minimum wage’ evolved, the stark contrast of the concept of minimum wage from the past to the present, and the proposed inadequacy of these wages with regards to how poorly they affect lower classes.
The term ‘minimum wage’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as an amount of money that is the least amount of money per hour that workers must be paid according to the law (“Minimum Wage Definition”). Furthermore, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) – which generally controls the employment and compensation in the United States – requires that a minimum wage be paid to employees regardless of if they are paid by the hour or by salary (“Minimum Wage”). This provides a foundation for an employee’s basic rights for adequate payment. Statistics show that from 1955 to 2014, the minimum wage in the United States gradually increased from $0.75 to $7.25; while this appeared to be a wage that aided the lower class in maintaining a stable life, proponents of a minimum wage increase would say otherwise (“Federal Minimum Wage Rates”). On the other hand, the term ‘living wage’ also comes into play. While a minimum wage is set by the law, a living wage is set by an individual’s standard of living; it should be large enough to provide an individual with the basic necessities to live an acceptable life (“Living Wage Definition”). There are currently two sides to the issue of raising the minimum wage: proponents of this issue state that the minimum wage should be increased due to the inability of the lower classes to work their way out of poverty, while its opponents argue that raising the minimum wage would lead to higher unemployment and an overall lack of a positive effect on the issue (Hasset).
The accompanying article to Wolverton’s cartoon, published by Tina Dupuy in The Cagle Post and titled “Don’t Like Food Stamps? Raise the Minimum Wage,” emphasizes proponents’ views to raise the minimum wage and outlines why their opponents’ perspectives do not appear to be the best option for the country. According to Dupuy, approximately ten million out of the forty-six million impoverished United States citizens are the working poor – she emphasizes that ‘work’ for the working poor does not buy food and shelter and that raising the minimum wage would help an individual with a full-time job and a child surpass the requirement for food stamps (Dupuy). On the other hand, opponents of raising the minimum wage, such as Kevin Hasset of the Los Angeles Times, believe that it would only increase the cost of hiring younger, low-skilled workers and raising it from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour would only aid about eleven percent of impoverished workers (Hasset).
While the debate between whether or not the minimum wage should be increased continues, it is important to view the issue from a holistic perspective; Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune states that while both sides make valid arguments, there are points to consider from each angle which contribute to the long-term effects for the country. Huppke states that on one hand, raising the minimum wage could potentially improve the lives of the working poor; on the other hand, it targets all minimum wage workers rather than just the working poor. Improving the lives of all minimum wage workers rather than solely the working poor reduces the action’s effectiveness due to an inefficient distribution of financial assistance and thus sheds light on alternative opportunities to relieve the situation using other investment methods (Huppke). This thought process leads to the idea that raising the minimum wage without further action to permanently eliminate poverty would only create a vicious cycle and cause the problem to reappear.
Wolverton’s cartoon embodies the current wage inadequacy. It can be correlated to another political cartoon published in the Dallas Morning News on October 20, 1933 by John Francis Knott titled “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More” – in Knott’s cartoon, an upper-class man is depicted giving a ten cent loan to a man in tattered clothes who represents two million cotton planters. The two cartoons differ in terms of their depiction; however, they share similarities through meaning. Wolverton’s cartoon parallels Knott’s cartoon due to the way it visually parallels – the rather rotund and well-dressed man sipping champagne and grasping the ‘record-level profits’ represents Knott’s Uncle Sam, the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone represents the ‘ten cent loan’, and the crushed bodies underneath represent the ‘two million cotton planters’ in tattered clothing.
The two cartoons are similar in the sense that they both deal with the call to aid the impoverished and underscore that the inadequacy of the current minimum wage is simply crushing the working poor. The humor that can be extracted from Wolverton’s cartoon is from the plump, smirking man increasing the downward force of the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone to crush those below him – this is humorous due to the accuracy with which the upper class is represented according to proponents of raising the minimum wage as well as how helpless the working poor is depicted. Additionally, the idea of minimum wage vs. living wage creates new meaning for the people crushed by the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone. They are suffering due to the insufficiency of the minimum wage they are being paid; these lower class individuals – while lawfully paid – are not being paid enough to accommodate their standard of living, causing them failure to be self–sufficient. The prominent message conveyed by Wolverton’s cartoon is that more attention should be given to the lower class along with the methods in which we plan to eliminate poverty; actions must be taken in order to benefit the country in the long term, not just for temporary relief. Through the reparations for the working poor, the future for all of the socioeconomic classes may seem more optimistic.
(1) “Federal Minimum Wage Rates, 1955–2014.” Infoplease. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
(2) “Living Wage Definition.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
(3) “Minimum Wage.” Encyclopedia of Small Business. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 743-44. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
(4) “Minimum Wage Definition.” Merriam Webster. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
(5) Dupuy, Tina. “Don’t Like Food Stamps? Raise the Minimum Wage.” The Cagle Post. Daryl Cagle, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
(6) Hasset, Kevin A., and Michael R. Strain. “The Minimum-wage Debate.” Los Angeles Times 10 Mar. 2013: n. pag. Print.
(7) Huppke, Rex. “In Minimum Wage Debate, Both Sides Make Valid Points.”Chicago Tribune 17 Mar. 2014: n. pag. Print.
(8) Knott, John. “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.
(9) Wolverton, Monte. “Minimum Wage.” Cagle Cartoons. Daryl Cagle, 21 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.