Raise the Minimum Wage
Boosting it would help our lowest-paid workers as well as the entire economy.
By Tiffany Williams
November 22, 2010
Posted Nov. 22, 2010, on OtherWords
When he was campaigning in 2008, President Barack Obama
promised to raise the federal minimum wage, declaring
"people who work full-time should not live in poverty."
Obama proposed raising it to $9.50 by 2011. That would
merely adjust the minimum wage for inflation and
restore its 1968 purchasing power.
Despite the very modest increase he proposed, neither
the White House nor Congress has done anything to make
it happen. In fact, at least three prominent Republican
Senate nominees advocated abolishing this worker
protection altogether as they fought tough races. It's
a good thing they all lost.
We need to raise the minimum wage, not eliminate it.
Boosting the minimum wage would help our lowest-paid
workers as well as the entire economy. According to the
Economic Policy Institute, every dollar increase in
wages for a worker on the bottom rung of the pay scale
creates more than $3,500 in new spending after one
The minimum wage, established during the New Deal to
provide a "minimum standard of living necessary for
health, efficiency and general well-being," is falling
short. A person working full time at the $7.25 hourly
minimum wage would earn $15,080 annually before taxes
Consider a working single mom with two children: the
federal poverty level for this family is $18,310. She
could work full time and still earn $3,000 less than
While raising the federal minimum wage would only be a
small step in helping low-income families (other
income-boosting measures like the Earned Income Tax
Credit and dependent care tax credits are proven to be
more effective in fighting poverty), it's nevertheless
an important step for ensuring that workers in minimum
and near-minimum wage jobs can better bridge the gap
between their meager income and expenses.
In addition to raising the minimum wage and indexing it
to inflation, the government must ensure that all
workers get this fundamental labor protection. In 2009,
approximately 3.6 million people earned the minimum
wage or less. A stunning 2.6 million of those people
legally earned less than the minimum wage because
they're excluded from the 1938 Fair Labor Standards
Home health workers, who provide invaluable care to the
elderly and disabled--allowing them to live with
dignity in their own homes--are still excluded from
minimum wage and overtime protections under the
so-called "companionship exemption."
Before the end of the year, the Department of Labor is
slated to finally include reform to the companionship
exemption in its regulatory agenda. Yet, home health
workers are only one segment of the workforce that's
excluded in one way or another from meaningful labor
protections that all workers need and deserve.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal responded to
the Great Depression by establishing a safety net that
could alleviate poverty and help the economy recover.
The minimum wage, an essential labor right, is just as
important now as it was then.
Some officials and newly elected lawmakers are now
proposing dangerous "recovery" strategies, such as
cutting taxes for the rich and slashing budgets for
social services that will leave millions of Americans
behind. While it's reasonable to presume that it's
risky to boost wages during a recession, several
economic studies indicate otherwise. Increasing the
minimum wage, and thereby increasing purchasing power
for the poorest Americans, actually helps the economy
Raising the minimum wage would be a step to restoring
dignity for millions of workers, enabling many ordinary
working Americans to become part of the economic
recovery rather than its collateral damage.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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