It might seem counter-intuitive to even begin talking about the need for a living wage for Americans in the face of our current economic crisis. But if we are going to fix our economy, then what better time than to do so by ensuring that all Americans are paid incomes that enable them to be above the poverty line.
With the cost of food, fuel, and health care rising at alarming rates and efforts to fix these concerns being derailed by the industries that control them, the alternative to ensure that this nation continues to live out its most valiant of creeds of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all is to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2010.
Consider this fact, the last time the federal minimum wage was able to meet the basic costs of Americans with food, shelter, and health care was in 1968. The year that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated was the last year that a job could actually help a person get out of poverty rather than keep her in it. The minimum wage in 1968 had the purchasing power of just under $10 of today’s purchasing power.
In the forty one years that passed, the gap between the the poor and the wealthy has grown beyond a gap into an unfathomable chasm. Consider that one man in this country has more wealth than the combined wealth of 45% of America. That man is Bill Gates. Nothing wrong in the success of this one man, but the contrast illustrates that America is no longer the land of flowing milk and honey. Our American Dream has become in the 21st century a psychotic nightmare.
Maybe we wouldn’t need to consider this option if America would adopt a single payer system of health care. But that option has been scrubbed off the table by Democrats caving in to the lobbyists of the Health Care Industry. And by fears that having a single payer system would be a step towards socialism when we already have used socialized solutions with great success in the last 80 years, i.e. social security, medicare/medicaid, veterans benefits and now government take overs of practically whole industries like banking and auto industries. The fears are unfounded, socialism does not equate with communism. And Socialist Democracies do not equate with reduced freedoms. Several of our greatest allies are socialist democracies; Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries to name a few with higher living standards than the US.
So here are some additional facts as to why it is important to raise the floor of our economy in order to support the cathedral ceiling. As of January 2009, most of the 27 states that had a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage had lower unemployment rates. I don’t know if that has held true as the recession deepened these past 6 months–I will investigate. Five states have no established minimum wage including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana–states with the highest rates of poverty anywhere in the country. Correlation? I don’t know.
However, the Fiscal Policy Institute reports that states with the higher minimum wage resulted in the fastest job growth across all sectors, including retail which has a disproportionate number of minimum wage earners. The fear that it would result in job loss is unfounded.
The third phase of the minimum wage act passed three years ago will go into affect July 24, raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25. However the buying power of this rate still falls short of the buying power of the $5.15 minimum wage set in 1997 by twenty cents. It is better but it still is not a living wage it merely is a dog nipping at its own tail.
“A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it,” said Holly Sklar, senior policy adviser for Let Justice Roll and co-author of A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future. “The minimum wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and insecurity. As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the floor to lift the economy.”