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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/3/15

Raise the Federal Minimum Wage Now -- But to $12 hourly, a Sensible Level!

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Raise federal minimum wage to a realistic (and winnable) amount.
Raise federal minimum wage to a realistic (and winnable) amount.
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The present federal minimum wage is ridiculously low -- at only $7.25 per hour, it is so low that a minimum-wage worker would earn only $14,500 working full-time for fifty weeks per year, far below the federal poverty line, far below minimum wage levels in European Union nations, and far below any concept of a living wage. The federal minimum wage leaves any family so far below the poverty line that a minimum wage worker can't even afford rent for a modest, two-bedroom apartment by working a standard 40-hour work week.

Those realities put America just a small step ahead of the countries which practice virtual slaveGrijalva, and Sen. Bernie Sanders recently introduced the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act, new legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour in steps.

According to the website of Credo Action, three million American workers earn wages at or below the federal minimum wage, and another 20.6 million are considered "near-minimum-wage" workers. In total, 35 million Americans -- over a quarter of our entire country's workforce -- earn less than $10.55 an hour, and a stunning 53 million earn less than $15 an hour. This legislation would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, then index the wage to inflation for following years. The bill would also phase out the tipped minimum wage, which is just $2.13 an hour for workers who earn tips, and make it easier for federal workers to join a union.

All of these proposals sound fine to many progressives -- but there is one insuperable problem: The Pay Workers a Living Wage Act stands the proverbial snowball-chance-in-Hell of ever becoming law! It will be hard enough to get any significant increase in the present federal minimum wage, without even trying to more-than-double it over the next few years! Senator Bernie Sanders and his colleagues in the house who support the $15 minimum wage are living in a dream world, and their well-intended but misguided efforts are very likely to reduce the chances for any federal minimum wage increase at all.

That reality is truly unfortunate, as a significant rise in the minimum wage would also have a sweeping, positive effect across age, gender, and racial lines, again according to Credo Action. Contrary to the claims of opponents to raising the minimum wage, the majority of minimum wage earners are not teens, but are adults who contribute significantly to their household's income. A disproportionate number of these workers -- 62% of all minimum wage earners -- are female, including 6 million working moms. Further, a significant increase in the federal minimum wage would benefit more than 50% of African-Americans -- and nearly 60% of Latino workers would see a pay increase.

Nevertheless, none of those gains can happen if the proposed Pay Workers a Living Wage Act does not pass, and if no alternative legislation with a more-realistic minimum wage increase, to say $12 per hour, is either not even introduced in Congress, or is introduced but not seriously considered. Pie-in-the-sky does not put bread on the table -- Bernie Sanders and Co. need to re-examine their proposal for viability in a Republican-dominated Congress which always favors business over labor, particularly minimum-wage labor. This is a case when half a loaf is better than none, as virtually all minimum wage workers will confirm when asked. We should not set them up for one more grave disappointment.

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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)

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