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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,063
February 23, 2021
BY Mike McManus

One of President Biden's goals is to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 over four years. The proposed hike is part of Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID bill.

However, the critics are out. The Congressional Budget Office says the boost of the minimum wage would result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs. CBO also asserts it would increase the federal deficit by $54 billion.

Result: Biden told CBS he might remove it from his COVID bill. That would be unfortunate.

However, there is a hidden issue that was revealed by Michelle Alexander in The New York Times. There are millions of workers who do not even earn the $7.25 minimum wage. Workers dependent on tips as waiters have a federal minimum wage of only $2.13 an hour!

This is a legacy from the first minimum wage enacted in 1938 when Franklin Roosevelt was President. The law excluded restaurant workers - a category that included a disproportionate number of Black people.

In 1966 when the minimum wage was overhauled, restaurant workers were specifically allocated the subminimum wage of $2.13. Today many states persist with this legacy of slavery, allowing a tipped workforce which is 70% female, and disproportionately Black and Brown to be paid a subminimum wage. Furthermore, Black women who rely on tips earn $5 per hour less than males dependent on tips.

This is a 21st Century version of slavery that must be addressed - even if the national minimum wage does not rise above $7.25.

These largely Black and Brown waitresses report that they are subject to sexual harassment at twice the rate of those lucky enough to live in the seven states that have enacted One Fair Wage, a full minimum wage with tips on top. Those exemplary states are Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. California's minimum is $14, Washington is $13.60 and Oregon is $12. But many other states are far above $7.25, such as Rhode Island at $11, Massachusetts, $13.50 and New Jersey is $12.

Interestingly, only 18 states are at the bare federal minimum of $7.25.

Female workers in states with higher minimum wages who are not as dependent on tips as elsewhere - feel more empowered to reject sexual harassment by their male customers.

The subminimum wage for tipped workers will come to an end if Congress enacts President Biden's minimum wage proposal. That is a major reason why it should become law.

February is Black History Month - another reason that the minimum wage should be raised and the law should be passed. Congress should no longer choose to roll over to the restaurant trade lobby and perpetuate this sad legacy of slavery. The Senate and House of Representatives should listen to the millions of workers with subminimum wages who are disproportionately female and people of color.

The Pullman company tried to impose a subminimum wage but Black porters, led by A. Philip Randolph, formed the nation's first Black union which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. It won higher wages with tips on top.

However, most workers with a subminimum wage are unaware of their subminimum wage.

The United States should pass a higher minimum wage, and include all workers.

I have some good news. Workers in the seven states that have enacted One Fair Wage a full minimum wage - earn even higher tips than those states with a subminimum wage.

Of course, the National Restaurant Association opposes any raise in the minimum. However, America should eliminate the subminimum wage, which is part of Biden's proposal to raise the minimum to $15 an hour over four years.

It would be a new day for the 17 million workers now earning a paltry minimum wage - and millions more barely surviving on a subminimum wage.

It is time for change!


Copyright (c)2021 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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