fresh voices from the front lines of change







The news just keeps getting better for the millions of Americans making minimum wage. Today, three weeks to the day after President Obama called for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour in the State of the Union address, two congressional Democrats have done him one better: Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, then tie the wage to the cost of living.

The bill would also increase wages for tipped workers, for whom the minimum wage is currently $2.13 an hour. This bill would increase their wages to at least seventy percent of the minimum wage.

The minimum wage has not been voted on since 2007, with the last raise raise going into effect in 2009. Tipped workers, such as waiters in restaurants, have not seen a minimum wage increase since 1991.

According to the National Employment Law Project’s fact sheet on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, the bill would, if passed:

  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015, in three steps of 95 cents each.
  • Adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living starting in 2016 – a key policy reform known as “indexing,” which 10 states are already using to prevent the minimum wage from falling in value each year.
  • Raise the minimum wage for tipped workers – which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years – to 70% of the minimum wage.

At the press conference announcing the bill at noon today, Harkin said that the key part of this bill would be to build opportunity for the people that perform essential functions for our everyday lives, and are rewarded by poverty. The senator noted that most of the people who earn a minimum wage are female, and that despite the idea that only teenagers earn this wage, almost 90 percent are adults.

Harkin reminded the audience of the rising child poverty numbers, and that many of these children had a parent who earned the minimum wage.

Miller followed Harkin, saying that income inequality in America threatens our economic security. This bill would, if passed, raise the pay of nearly a quarter of the working population, he said.

The lawmakers were joined by Margot Dorfman, the CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Andy Shallal, the owner of Washington-area restaurants Busboys & Poets and Eatonville; Amie Crawford, a Chicago fast-food worker, and Gregory Reynoso, a New York pizza delivery driver.

Dorfman and Shallal, at the heads of their respective businesses, dispelled myths associated with raising the minimum wage. Dorfman suggested that the right would trot out the old boogeyman of “raising the minimum wage would hurt small businesses.” This, she said, was a lie propagated by the large corporations that pay their workers minimum wage, the same corporations that can keep prices low and depend on smaller businesses paying their employees enough to buy products in the big box stores. Shallal railed against the National Restaurant Association (“The other NRA”), and said that from his experience in Washington, with Washington’s $8.25 minimum wage, restaurants were opening too quickly to visit them all. “When I want to provide a morale boost, I give a raise, and I think that we could all use a morale boost in this situation,” Shallal said. These are two business owners who get it.

Crawford and Reynoso’s stories painted a picture for the audience of what raising the minimum wage would mean for minimum wage workers.

For Reynoso, living in New York City, it would mean that perhaps his daughter could go to a better school, and his wife would be able to finish school. Instead of relying on food stamps some months, he could proudly put food on the table, much like he delivers to your door. Reynoso wants a higher minimum wage so that he could provide a better future for himself and his family.

Amie Crawford does not look so much into the future, but rather yearns for the past. She went to school, worked hard for 30 years, had a savings account, then moved to Chicago for family reasons. In Chicago, she could not find a job, so, to hold her over for the time being, she took a minimum wage job to feed herself. She is still in this position. She received a 50-cent raise, but will not get another. She makes $8.75 an hour, and her take-home pay in February was $788. In Chicago.

These are both people that have worked hard and played by the rules, yet barely get by.

Raising the minimum wage already faces an uphill battle against congressional Republicans and some conservative Democrats. The morning after President Obama announced his desire to raise the minimum wage, House Speaker John Boehner called the bill a non-starter, saying “when you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”

This reason for opposition is one that has been questioned by many in the progressive community. The evidence that raising the minimum wage will hurt workers is tenuous at best, a bald-faced lie at worst. While economists still do not agree on whether or not a higher minimum wage negatively affects employment, those skeptical have fallen from 60% in 1990 to 46% in 2000.

A November 2010 study published in the MIT Review of Economics and Statistics studied all pairs of counties that had a wage differences in a contiguous county and found “no adverse employment effects. We show that traditional approaches that do not account for local economic conditions tend to produce spurious negative effects due to spatial heterogeneities in employment trends that are unrelated to minimum wage policies. Our findings are robust to allowing for long-term effects of minimum wage changes.” In other words, sorry businesses, there is no good reason not to raise minimum wage, except to pocket the difference yourself.

The Economic Policy Institute has said that “the resulting impact on the overall economy would be demonstrably positive, as minimum-wage workers would spend their new earnings immediately, generating a positive impact on GDP and related modest employment growth.”

The reasons for not raising the minimum wage are reasons of greed. It has been proven that raising the minimum wage would not hurt job production, yet some on Capitol Hill refuse to believe these facts, protecting the CEOs that line their pockets on the backs of their employees.

When asked what he would say to the senators and representatives that oppose this bill, Harkin responded, “Do what’s right, do what’s just, do what’s fair.”

America is the richest country in the history of the world, it is a crazy notion to believe that we cannot afford to pay the people that make our lives easier enough to be above the poverty line.

To spread the word about the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, supporters are using the hashtag #timefor1010. If you believe that the people that cook and serve your food, take care of your children during daycare, and work in the service industry deserve the same right to get ahead as anyone else, help push this bill through to the president.

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