It's currently $7.25. Schmitt wondered: What would it have been if it had been tied to a commonly-used benchmark?
Consumer Price Index (CPI-I): $10.52
Current CPI methodology (CPI-U-RS): $9.22
As a percentage of average production worker's earnings: $10.01
And if it had been tied to productivity gains the minimum wage would be $21.72. But all that added wealth went straight to the top.
There's a myth in this country that enormous wealth doesn't come from anywhere or anyone, that it's self-creating and self-sustaining, thriving on pure oxygen like an epiphyte or a garden fairy. In reality, highly concentrated wealth is caused by actions -- human actions with human consequences.
Saez: "A number of factors may help explain this increase in inequality, not only underlying technological changes but also the retreat of institutions developed during the New Deal and World War II - such as progressive tax policies, powerful unions, corporate provision of health and retirement benefits, and changing social norms regarding pay inequality."
Wealth inequity is created whenever an employer lowers his employees' wages, replaces a full-time worker with several part-timers, busts a union, cuts corners on workplace safety, or pays a lobbyist to change the rules.
It's created whenever a job is shipped overseas, and when investments are shifted from job-producing industries to the non-productive financial sector. It's created when GE outsources its manufacting operation and gets into the banking (read, "gambling with taxpayers' money") business. Or when AIG stops insuring risk and starts betting on it.
And the process isn't slowing down. In fact, it seems to be accelerating.
As Saez says, "We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional and tax reforms should be developed to counter it."
The President's proposal is modest, and there's no reason not to enact it immediately. For those who believe that businesses "can't afford" to pay higher wages, some key facts:
Most low-wage workers work for large corporations, not Mom-and-Pop businesses.
A Data Brief from the National Employment Law Project finds that 66 percent of low-wage employees work for companies with more than 100 employees. A handful of very large corporations collectively employ nearly 8 million low-wage employees.
There's no evidence minimum wage increases mean fewer jobs.
Opponents say a higher minimum wage means fewer jobs. But the official US unemployment rate in 1968, when the real minimum wage was highest, was 3.6 percent. Today it's 7.8 percent -- and the unofficial numbers are even worse. At the state level, the Fiscal Policy Institute recently concluded that "States with Minimum Wages above the Federal Level have had Faster Small Business and Retail Job Growth."