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Pay CEOs less, minimum wage workers more

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Message Holly Sklar
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Minimum wage workers made $5.15 an hour when Harry Potter became a sensation a decade ago, and nothing more until July 24, three days after the final Harry Potter book release.

The same year Harry Potter and the $5.15 minimum wage made their debuts, in 1997, Business Week declared CEO pay was "Out of Control." Since then, CEO pay has gotten more out of control.

Average CEO pay at the top 500 companies jumped 38 percent to $15.2 million in 2006 -- the year we broke the record for the longest period ever without a raise in the federal minimum wage.

The July 24 minimum wage increase from $5.15 to $5.85 is so little, so late, that the minimum wage is still worth less than it was back in 1997, when it was $6.67 in today's dollars.

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Minimum wage workers had more buying power when Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton opened his first Walton’s 5 & 10 in 1951.

CEOs make more in 90 minutes than minimum wage workers make in a year.

The two longest periods in history without a minimum wage increase have occurred since 1980. Those long draughts without a raise have left minimum wage workers in the dust.

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In 1980, the average CEO at a big corporation made as much as 97 minimum wage workers. In 1997, the average CEO made as much as 728 minimum wage workers.

Last year, CEOs made as much as 1,419 minimum wage workers.

"As the productivity of workers increases, one would expect worker compensation to experience similar gains," a 2001 U.S. Department of Labor report observed.

Instead, the gains have gone to record-breaking profits, CEOs and other have-mores.

Between 1980 and 2006, worker productivity went up 70 percent, average worker wages went nowhere, the minimum wage fell 32 percent, and domestic corporate profits rose 256 percent, adjusting for inflation.

A red light for minimum wage was a green light for accelerating greed.

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Adjusting for inflation, men in their thirties make less today than their fathers' generation made in the 1970s.

It's time to stop overpaying CEOs enough to keep their families rich for many generations to come at the expense of workers paid poverty wages today.

Even the state with the highest minimum wage, Washington at $7.93, doesn't match the buying power of the federal minimum wage at its peak in 1968. Worth $9.56 in today's dollars, the 1968 minimum wage was more than $2 higher than the scheduled raise in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 on July 24, 2009.

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Holly Sklar is a widely published op-ed columnist whose books include "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us" and "Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood," the widely taught story of how the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative is rebuilding a long impoverished Boston community.
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