Examining Experts’ Arguments for Increasing the Minimum Wage

Insights for Social Work Advocates


  • Elizabeth Steiner
  • Sandra Wexler
  • Rafael Jacob Engel University of Pittsburgh




Claims-making, minimum wage, low-wage workers, qualitative descriptive methods


The struggles of low-wage workers have increasingly become the focus of public debate, legislative activity, and widespread advocacy. Advocacy can be viewed from the vantage point of claims-making, that is, how individuals and groups define and shape a social problem to influence policy. This paper describes the wage-related claims posted online by 17 experts who testified to a City Council Wage Review Committee in Pittsburgh. Our primary aim was to understand how experts constructed their claims; secondarily, we were interested in the rationales they offered for raising wages. We thematically analyzed the testimonies to identify how they shaped and defined their claims in favor of increasing wages. Experts described the challenges faced by minimum wage workers and their families as well as by the community. They cited economic considerations, social and economic justice concerns, and moral justifications for raising the minimum wage, often combining arguments. Social work advocates are important claims-makers, yet how they “speak truth to power” is not often systematically assessed. Our analysis suggests social work advocates must be prepared to provide multiple arguments and to put a human face to any data presented. Appeals should be made to both the heads and hearts of decision-makers, while keeping social and economic justice arguments front and center.

Author Biography

Rafael Jacob Engel, University of Pittsburgh

Associate Professor


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