Minimum Wage Woes

In failing to pass bill that would have led to federal minimum wage raise, Congress fails workers

Source: Economic Policy Institute<br><a href=minimum.jpg target=blank><b>View a larger image</b></a>
Source: Economic Policy Institute
View a larger image

The United States recently took another glorious step away from economic equality. Last month, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have led to a $2.10 hourly raise in the federal minimum wage, making it nearly nine years since an increase – from $4.75 to $5.15, in September of 1997. If Congress can slither past December 1 without agreeing to a raise for working men and women, we'll beat our minimum-wage-stagnation record – nine years and three months without an increase, from January 1981 to April 1990. Yee-haw!

Actually, the situation is a lot worse than that. According to a June 20 joint brief by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute,

"The minimum wage now equals only 31% of the average wage for private sector, nonsupervisory workers. This is the lowest share since at least the end of World War II." (Translation: Compared to the pay of workers in other nonsupervisory jobs, minimum wage is at a 60-year low.)

"Since September 1997, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has deteriorated by 20%. After adjusting for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955." (Translation: The millions of U.S. workers earning $5.15 an hour can afford to buy the least amount of stuff they have been able to in 50 years.)

Not surprisingly, the policy brief advocates for a wage increase. "Raising the minimum wage would be one way to help reconnect the living standards of our lowest wage workers to the growth of the overall economy. As has been widely noted, the benefits of the current recovery have failed to reach many workers."

Various campaigns around the country are under way to get both federal and state minimum-wage rates increased. One of the more visible campaigns is that of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. (See www.raisewages.org for more info.) "In voting down an increase in the minimum wage, the Republican-controlled Senate went against the will of the American people, who believe that a hard day's work deserves fair pay," said ACORN President Maude Hurd in a statement. "We are disappointed, but not deterred."


For more on our stagnant minimum wage, see the "Hightower Report," p.29; and for more on the minimum wage and related issues, see www.epi.org/content.cfm/issueguides_minwage.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

minimum wage, Congress, federal minimum wage, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Economic Policy Institute, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN, Maude Hurd

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