Saturday, July 21, 2007

The minimum wage to increase

On Tuesday, the federal minimum wage will increase for the first time in a decade from $5.15 an hour to $5.85. Included as part of the supplemental funding bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, this amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 grants an additional 70-cent boost each summer for the next two years, ending in 2009 at $7.25 an hour.

Despite the taint of how it came about, this is an important accomplishment promised and passed by the Democratic majority in Congress and they should get credit for it.

However, the fight for economic justice for low-wage workers is not over. From the AP:
(The increase) comes to just above $15,000 yearly before taxes for a 52-week work year.

Now, someone in such a job and earning $5.85 an hour would bring home $12,168 a year before taxes. The federal poverty level for singles is $10,210, couples is $13,690 and $17,170 for families of three.

"In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is an outrage that anyone who works full time would still wind up in poverty," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "Everyone who puts in an honest day's work should receive a fair day's pay."

Poverty and the minimum wage are becoming a major issue in the Democratic presidential race. John Edwards and Barack Obama are emphasizing raising the minimum wage during their tours of impoverished areas.

Edwards, who said he wants to eliminate poverty within a generation, favors raising the minimum wage to $9.50. Obama is advocating a "living wage" that would go up as inflation rises and he has promised to eliminate the phrase "working poor."
John Edwards, who is definitely a tireless advocate for the poor, calls for the additional hike by 2012, and I think it should definitely be around there by then. But I agree with Sen. Obama that Congress should pass a law tying increases to inflation so that minimum wage hikes become automatic and timely, instead of needing Congress to keep coming back to it. As we just saw, it took forever for this last increase because we had to wait for Democrats to take back control from the Republicans.

In the meantime, at least many states get it:
More than two dozen states and the District of Columbia already have minimum wages higher than the federal one. Even in those states, an increase in the federal minimum wage probably will have a ripple effect, increasing the salaries of Townsend and others.

North Carolina raised its minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 in January.

"It's a long overdue first step," said Cindia Cameron, the national organizing director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women. Minimum wage workers typically are young, single and female and are often black or Hispanic.

Even then when the full increase is enacted, minimum wage workers will be just scraping by. "It's not enough money to meet your basic needs, I'm talking about your rent, your gas, and gas to get back and forth to work," said Sonya Murphy, head organizer of the Mississippi Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
The fact that so many will still be struggling even when this increase is fully enacted just shows how unbelievable it is that up until this coming week we still had a minimum wage of just $5.15 an hour and it further shows that there is still a lot of work to be done to fight poverty in America.

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