fresh voices from the front lines of change







It is time – in fact, it is past time – to demand that Congress act to increase the minimum wage. This week, the effort to get Congress to act is accelerating.

As of late Wednesday, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition posted by the Campaign for America's Future. The goal is to have several hundred thousand people calling for "the leaders of the House and Senate to allow an up-or-down vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and then index it to inflation." (Sign the petition here.)

Also Wednesday, the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., announced the formation of a group of restaurant owners pledged to be advocates for a minimum wage increase, as a counterweight to the National Restaurant Association, one of the leaders of the minimum-wage-increase opposition.


The Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment organization promises "to support small and medium-sized business owners as they move towards the 'High Road' to profitability by raising the standards by which we do business."

The Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase the current federal minimum wage, $7.25, to $10.10 in three steps over a three-year period, and then index it annually to inflation from that point forward.

The bill would make an even more significant difference for tipped workers, mostly in the restaurant industry. They currently have a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour that has not increased since 1991. Under the bill, tipped workers would earn a minimum 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

In addition to Miller's bill in the House, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has a companion bill in the Senate.

House members have in fact had one opportunity to vote on the bill in March, in the form of a motion instructing the House to add the minimum wage increase to a workforce training bill. The motion was unanimously rejected by House Republicans.

The bill, though, deserves a stand-alone vote in its own right. It's been three years since the minimum wage went up to $7.25, and that increase did not undo the damage done to low-wage workers by decades of congressional failure to keep this wage floor from sinking.

Even if the minimum wage was $10.10 today, minimum wage workers would not have the same buying power that a minimum wage worker had in the mid-1960s; to be on par with a minimum wage worker in 1968 today, you would need to earn $10.55 an hour.

The majority of these workers, it bears emphasizing, are not teenagers working their first job or laborers at a brief first stop on their way up the economic ladder. More than 4.4 million Americans currently earn federal minimum wage or less; more than half are adults and 284,000 of them are college graduates. Two-thirds are women, and almost 60 percent of minimum-wage women over 25 are the sole breadwinner in their household. Two-thirds work for businesses that have at least 100 employees; so much for the argument that raising the minimum wage would devastate small businesses.

Right now a single mother trying to raise a child working a full-time, minimum-wage job is still going to end up below the poverty line. That is not right. In fact, it's downright criminal when you consider that corporate profits as a percentage of the economy today are at record highs while worker wages as a percentage of the economy are at record lows.

The conservative snake-oil pitch that you can grow the economy from the top down continues to show itself to be folly. So do the predictions, echoing back to when the first federal minimum wage went into effect almost 75 years ago, that both businesses and workers will suffer dire consequences with an increased minimum wage. And yet, with each minimum wage increase, business profits keep going up, stock prices keep going up and CEOs keep getting outsized bonuses.

Raising the minimum wage is an essential step toward growing the economy the right way. It will give the economy a boost by putting money in the pockets of working people. They'll spend it on clothing for their kids, repairs for their car and all the small necessities they've put off. Meanwhile, millions of other low-wage workers will also see their wages tick upward. All of that additional income improves business, sparking additional hiring.

This is the virtuous cycle our economy needs, and Congress can make it happen. But, as last month's vote shows, House Republicans have formed a solid bloc of opposition to any minimum wage increase. That bloc, though, can at least be cracked through public pressure. Signing this petition can help. Congress must raise the floor for workers, so that the economy can rise.

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