Tying the elimination of the estate tax to what would at best be called only a modest step towards establishing a living wage for millions of working poor demonstrates once again the Republican leadership's callous disregard for low-income Americans. Knowing full well that the Senate would vote down any bill eliminating the estate tax, House leaders hope only with this ploy to give cover to their moderate colleagues for the fall elections, while ensuring the wage hike does not become law.
That is not to say that even if the minimum wage hike, proposed at $2.10 over three years, were uncoupled from the estate tax measure the Senate would vote its approval. It was just in June that the Republican-controlled Senate rejected a Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage to just $7.25 over two years.
The fifteen million American workers laboring at forty hours a week at the current minimum wage make just $10,700 a year, barely above the federal poverty level for a single person but well below that for a family of two, let alone three, or four. For 2006, the federal poverty level stands at a laughably low $20,000 for workers with a spouse and two children. Even at $7.25 an hour, the worker's annual income would rise to just $15,080 - far from a living wage for a head of household.
Inflation has eroded the minimum wage's buying power to the lowest level in fifty-one years. Tired of waiting for Washington, twenty states have already passed minimum wages higher than the federal level. Six more may have minimum wage hikes on the November ballot. And, in Chicago, the city council just this past week passed an ordinance requiring workers make a living wage of at least $10 an hour by 2010.
Over seventy percent of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage. Seventy percent either see or are one of the millions of Americans who are working as hard as they can but still need some help to stay afloat. Seventy percent of us are fair-minded enough to recognize that the economy exists to support society and people, not the other way around. This seventy percent must include a fair number of self-labeled Republicans, though obviously not those at the helm of their party.
More than five years under a Republican leadership whose fiscal and social policy takes good care of the rich but shuns the poor, everyday Americans are realizing that the benefits are clearly not trickling down. More than thirty-six million Americans now live in poverty, and over forty million more live in near-poverty. Millions of workers have been displaced from high-end to low-end jobs, and America has gone from being a manufacturing dynamo to having a WalMart, McJobs economy.
Yet the Republican Party leadership is still offering the same sermon, preaching that the solution to poverty is to grow the economy out of the problem, to cut taxes on the wealthy so severely that the revenue generated by their reinvestment will more than offset losses to the Treasury.
But rather than foster growth, the massive Republican tax cuts for rich (read: Republican) people - not to mention their catastrophic blunder in Iraq - have instead over five short years fostered enormous deficits and a growing American underclass. Their free-spending, revenue-slashing, help-the-wealthy and damn-the-deficits style of governing has led to growing economic unfreedom for working families, and greater income inequality between the richest Americans and the rest of us.
Poor and middle-class Americans today are working harder and longer than ever, saving less, borrowing more, commuting longer distances, and increasingly doing without. Larger numbers of working Americans are just trying to survive, trying to stand on their own two feet and take care of their families. Individuals and families are struggling ever more to meet basic needs, and to make ends meet.
The poor and middle-class are losing ground in America, even as they do all the things that society says that they should. But the Republicans keep telling us that the economy is growing - so don't worry, be happy!
But as the economy expands year after year, low-paying jobs increase and good jobs leave the country. Poverty rises, and the real incomes of working families stagnate. Pensions decline, and health care becomes a luxury. On their watch, the economy may indeed by doing fine, but the people in it quite simply are not.
This November, it is time for Americans to say "no more!" to the fiscal and social policies of the Republican leadership that have resulted in billions of dollars fleeing our Treasury and our pocketbooks. "No more!" cutting taxes on the wealthy and spending on the poor. "No more!" shifting debt to the next generations. "No more!" indecent wages for decent, hard-working Americans.
Families that work hard and full-time shouldn't be poor in America. This November, Americans need to elect politicians of every stripe who will support a living family income, who will put poverty relief ahead of tax relief for the rich, and who will put the interests and needs of America's workers ahead of corporations and wealthy estate-owners. In the fight against poverty, there's no Republican or Democrat way - there's only the right way. We have the wallet - can we find the will?