Minimal progress on the minimum wage
Written by Cole Stangler on November 15, 2012 in News.
Back in 2008, when incoming President Barack Obama still seemed to incarnate progressive aspirations for a wide-reaching wave of social and economic reforms, he spoke about a very basic policy move to improve the lives of the working poor: an increase in the federal minimum wage. As part of the “Obama-Biden Plan” to tackle poverty—which noted that the former Illinois Senator was a “lifelong advocate for the poor”—the President-elect promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011, and index it to inflation.
Four years later, the federal minimum wage remains at a paltry $7.25 an hour, paling in embarrassing fashion to its counterparts across the industrialized West. To put that into context, the United Kingdom’s minimum wage is about $9.80 an hour, and France’s is roughly $12 an hour.
The U.S. minimum wage is not even close to a living wage. The poverty line for a family of four is $23,050, which means that any full-time worker earning wages under $11.06 an hour is below that line. For these minimum wage workers, and the tens of millions of other American workers whose wages keep them well below the poverty line, basic necessities like food, transportation, and housing are barely within reach. In fact, a recent report showed that households working the entire year at minimum wage cannot afford the fair market rent for two bedroom housing in any state in the country.
Out of the administration’s many reneged promises during its first term, this ranks among the most inexcusable. That Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress didn’t prioritize this issue out of some genuine concern for the poor isn’t surprising. But what is genuinely shocking is that amid a recession—and now sluggish recovery—raising the minimum wage actually makes basic economic sense, especially when that wage is so low in the first place.
An increase would put more money into the hands of workers, boost consumption, and help generate economic growth. Leaving millions of workers unable to purchase basic goods is just illogical from a purely economic point of view.
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