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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,986
September 5, 2019
Let's Raise the Minimum Wage
By Mike McManus

The federal minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour, and has not been raised in a decade. It is condemning millions to poverty.

It should be raised to give 33 million Americans a long overdue pay raise.

Fortunately, the House voted this spring to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over six years. The vote was 231-199, with only three Republicans supporting the initiative.

Nine of the 10 Democratic candidates for President who will appear in a debate this month - support the measure, with only businessman Andrew Yang opposing it.

However, the Republican Senate has ignored the issue, and is unlikely to vote for it.

It is high time to raise the minimum wage. At $7.25 an hour, a person working full time earns only $290 in a week, $1,160 a month or only $13,920 a year. In today's economy, that is way too little.

Interestingly, 29 states have raised their minimum wage above the federal standard. For California companies with more than 25 employees, the minimum is increasing from $11 an hour to $12 this year. For companies with fewer than 25 employees, the rate is increasing from $10.50 to $11.

Maine increased its minimum from $10 last year to $11 in 2019 and Massachusetts rose from $11 to $12 this year. Poorer states such as Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina are at the federal minimum of $7.25.

However Arkansas, which is also a poor state, raised its minimum from $8.50 to $9.25 in 2019 and will step up to $11 by 2021.

A number of states such as Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois enacted new laws that will raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

There is also growing support in Congress for a law guaranteeing paid family and medical leave. Any such minimum standards are important, but not enough to compensate for wages that are too low. As The New York Times editorialized, "In recent decades, workers have received a declining share of the nation's economic output in the form of wages and benefits. The need is for changes in federal law to shift the balance of power toward workers."

Another change that is needed is to reverse the racially motivated exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers from the full protection of federal minimum wage laws.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California is leading the field on this issue. She has introduced a "Domestic Workers Bill of Rights" that would extend basic protection to the nation's caregivers and housekeepers - including a mandated minimum wage, eligibility for overtime off and paid time off.

Republicans opposing a higher federal minimum say it will hurt small businesses and cause many employers to cut jobs to offset the costs of higher wages. Younger workers would be among those particularly impacted they say.

For example, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said the bill is "unnecessary" and put politics ahead of the needs of workers. "Increasing the federal minimum wage by 107% is a harmful and unprecedented mandate that would result in millions of job losses for vulnerable Americans, small business closures and significant damage to the U.S. economy."

However, major employers have been increasing their own wages in response to heightened political pressure - such as Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart. Amazon late last year boosted its minimum pay to $15 an hour, as it geared up for holiday season hiring and in the face of public chastising by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Wal-Mart raised its base pay to $11 an hour. And its CEO, Doug McMillon, announced the company will urge Congress to raise the minimum wage. It was a rare step for the nation's biggest employer to demand action, although McMillon didn't endorse the $15-an-hour minimum Sanders and other Democrats seek.

Sen. Sanders has promised an executive order barring federal contracts for firms that don't meet the standard of a $15 minimum wage.

All the Democratic candidates have proposed to expand the availability of health insurance for people without access to affordable private sector plans.

There is also broad support by Democratic Presidential candidates to subsidize child care, and to provide universal access to affordable preschool.

Of course, the likelihood of passage of a $15 minimum wage and other benefits is near zero with a Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump.

Fortunately, there is hope with an election in 2020.


Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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