My Word: Workers’ pay should be tied to inflation: Back the Fair Wage Act

Kimberly Starr and James Decker/for the Times-Standard
Posted: 03/20/2013 02:39:27 AM PDT

We are long overdue for a raise in the minimum wage. Working class people  of Eureka need a victory that will improve their lives — and the Fair  Wage Act will be that victory. The minimum wage must be indexed to  inflation to insure that those at the bottom share in the growth of our  economy. We must reverse the trend of 2 percent of the people in the  U.S. solely capturing all the benefits of improved productivity and  innovation. It is theft of peoples’ time, labor and ideas.In  Eureka, we cannot rely on politicians. We’ve come together and created  an ordinance to strengthen our community by giving the lowest paid  workers a long overdue raise.

The federal minimum wage was  first established in 1938 when FDR signed the Fair Labor Standards Act,  which also established the 8-hour day, paid overtime, and child labor  protections. The FLSA emerged, over the violent opposition of  businessmen, due to strikes, pickets and other actions of brave working  people. In 1938, and with every worker-benefiting amendment to the FLSA  since, politicians, business leaders, and think tanks have opposed the  minimum wage, claiming myriad suffering the “minimum wage horror” would  cause the fall of the American empire, devastation of businesses, “more  misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression” (Ronald Reagan, 1980). However, the minimum wage and its increases  improved economies of all sizes, holding only benefits for employers and workers alike.

From 1938 to 1968 , the purchasing power of the minimum wage increased by  over 140 percent. Minimum wage workers saw a positive upgrade in their  living standards as wages rose in step with productivity growth.

If the federal minimum wage kept pace with improved productivity of  workers it would now be over $20 an hour. Had it increased with the  rising cost of living, even by conservative calculations, it would be  over $10.50. California is a high cost-of-living state with the lowest  minimum wage on the west coast, $8 an hour. It’s time to raise wages and tie them to inflation.

As we circulated the Fair Wage Act  throughout Eureka, the responses were no surprise: People want and need  to bring home decent pay. People know their time and labor are valuable. Corporate profits are at record highs; it is past time for those  profits to be shared with the workers who produce them.

Forces  that oppose higher wages say they’re concerned about job loss — never  considering job loss when it comes to raising CEO pay. Increasing the  minimum wage, especially during high unemployment times, has been found  throughout various geographical areas and time periods, to either have  no effect on employment or, more often, stimulate job growth. We have 75 years demonstrating that as wages rise, employment rises.

Humboldt folks might find relevant a study by Princeton economists comparing the effect on employment in New Jersey to employment across the river in  eastern Pennsylvania, after New Jersey raised the minimum wage and  Pennsylvania did not. The border there is slight, neither a barrier to  commerce nor employment. Employment rose in New Jersey when wages rose.  Employment stayed the same in Pennsylvania with the stagnant minimum  wage. This pattern happens throughout the U.S. where one county raises  wages and the neighbor county does not. Employment improves where the  minimum wage is higher.

Recently, calling for too small a  raise, the president nevertheless spelled out a strong case to the  nation for raising the minimum wage: “ … our economy is stronger when  we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. … still liv[ing] below the poverty line. That’s wrong. Tonight, let’s declare that in  the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have  to live in poverty … . It could mean the difference between groceries  or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting  ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with  more money … . Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so  that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”

People and the economy need a boost in Eureka. Most minimum wage workers, a majority  of whom are women, support households. Too many households are  struggling on low wages to meet rising food, housing, transportation and health care costs, with no retirement fund. A higher minimum wage is  just. It will help start an economic surge in our communities,  increasing spending, business viability, and creating new jobs. Support  the Fair Wage Act.

Kimberly Starr and James Decker, Eureka residents, are signatories to the Fair Wage Act initiative. For more information, visit

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