Time to raise minimum wage

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | April 2, 2014

What seemed unlikely even a year ago seems to be gaining support: raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Wisconsin’s minimum wage matches the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. There are companion bills in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. On Feb. 12, President Obama signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federally contracted employees to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2015, with scheduled increases each year thereafter.

On Monday, March 31, the “Give America a Raise” 11-state bus tour stopped in Milwaukee. Tour organizers note that, if Wisconsin’s minimum wage was raised to $10.10 an hour over the next two years, 595,000 people would benefit.

March 26 saw Connecticut’s legislature vote to raise that state’s minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to $10.10. In SeaTac, Wash., last November, voters passed a referendum to raise the minimum wage in that city (home to Seattle’s airport) to $15 per hour. Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco are among other cities considering a hike to $15.

The response has been predictable: both support and concern. This was heightened Feb. 18, when the Congressional Budget Office released a study on the effects of raising the minimum wage: It showed that 500,000 jobs would be eliminated.

Many people seem to have stopped reading the report there: jobs lost. Period. However, the study also added that “the increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion.”

Add in the fact that many people who work for minimum wage — 3.5 million of them — currently work two or more jobs “to make ends meet.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, in January, 6.685 million U.S. workers held multiple jobs. And, contrary to popular belief that these workers are in college or high school, the BLS showed that 6 million were 25 and older. Also, 3.59 million of them worked one full-time job, along with part-time employment. Why? Because you can’t afford to live on a full-time job that pays only minimum wage.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the U.S. average wage needed to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment was $14.32 an hour in 2013. And $18.25 an hour was needed to afford an average house payment.

What about food? In December, the USDA reports that the average income needed to buy what it considers the lowest monthly cost food plan for a family of four was $553.90 a month. That’s $6,636, or 46 percent, of the before-tax pay that a full-time minimum wage worker makes in an entire year. And remember: many minimum wage workers are single mothers. According to the White House Press Office (March 19, 2014), 2.8 million working single parents would benefit from an increased minimum age, and 80 percent of them are women.

In a Jan. 8, 2014, letter to Congress, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called for an increase in the minimum wage. “We write not as economists or labor market experts,” he said, “but rather as pastors and teachers who every day, in our ministries and churches, see the pain and struggles caused by an economy that simply does not produce enough jobs with just wages.”

Yes, an increase in minimum wage will cost jobs. However, many of those jobs are part-time jobs that could be eliminated if people who now work two, three and even four part-time jobs, were able to work one full-time, higher-paying job. They could support their families and be able to spend more quality time with them. They might even have a little extra money to spend — on consumer goods, which would boost the economy. Everyone would win, in the end.

Related Posts

Scroll to Top