Workers paid weakly

August 29, 2014

From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters

New York—It insults our intelligence to claim that the proposed increase in the minimum wage from the existing $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in 2016 is enough to keep a family above the poverty line. President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for workers on future federal contracts, and 65% of Americans approve raising the minimum wage for all workers. Yet there is vehement opposition from reactionary forces, and opposition from the Republican-controlled House dooms the measure.

The standard of living of Americans today is less than it was in 1972. If wages had kept up with increases in productivity and inflation, the average worker’s wage of $20.39 an hour today would be about $38 an hour. By the same measure, the minimum wage would be $18 an hour. An estimated 27.8 million people would benefit even from $10.10 an hour, reducing by 4.6 million the number of people living in poverty.

Opponents claim raising the minimum wage would result in layoffs and higher prices while only benefiting teenagers in summer jobs, although the average minimum-wage worker in this non-recovery is 35. These kinds of bogus arguments, although they monopolize the media, are beside the point.

The point is the welfare of the American people, and the ideas proposed for solutions nibble around the edges without dealing with the essential failures of the economic system that generates these contradictions that produce the inhumanity we face over things like the minimum wage.

—Michael Gilbert

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