Today is a good day for 13 million Americans. It’s the first time in a decade that the federal minimum wage has risen, jumping 70 cents to $5.85 an hour. The minimum wage will continue to increase each summer until 2009, when “all minimum-wage jobs will pay no less than $7.25 an hour.” This raise is long overdue. The conservative 109th Congress, aided by President Bush, repeatedly blocked any increase in the minimum wage. Under the previous minimum wage, a full-time worker making $5.15 an hour earned $10,712 a year; the federal poverty line is $17,170 for a family of three.
- From today forward, minimum wage earners will be more able to pay for basic necessities. Of the 13 million Americans who will benefit from this minimum wage increase, more than 60 percent are women and almost 40 percent are people of color. As Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) notes, workers making the minimum wage will “almost immediately earn an additional $1,500 to help support their families.” According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, “Before today, minimum-wage earners working to buy hamburger dinners their families would’ve had to work nearly four more hours per week today than they did in 1997 to buy the same meal. After the increase, they’ll be able to work an hour and a half less to feed their families.”
- Raising the minimum wage is an important step toward reversing the poverty increase that has occurred under the Bush administration. Under Bush, the number of Americans in poverty has increased by 5.4 million. Approximately “37 million Americans currently live in poverty, including 13 million children. Among full-time, year-round workers, poverty has increased by 50 percent since the late 1970s.” In 2005, the richest 1 percent of Americans had the largest share of the nation’s income—19 percent—since 1929, while the poorest 20 percent of Americans had only 3.4 percent of the nation’s income. At $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage was at its lowest level in real terms since 1956. But even with this raise, more than two dozen states and the District of Columbia already have minimum wages higher than the federal level.
- The increase in the minimum wage is an important victory for progressives over obstructionist conservatives. According to a December 2006 poll, 80 percent of the American public supports an increase in the minimum wage. Yet even in the new Congress, the right wing has tried to obstruct any wage increase. Conservatives in the 110th Congress attempted to obstruct progress on raising the minimum wage, forcing the legislation to garner a supermajority of 60 votes to end debate and vote on the bill itself. Conservatives have argued that a raise in the minimum wage would hurt small businesses. But an American Progress study found that employment in small businesses, the number of small businesses, and inflation-adjusted small business payroll growth grew more in states with higher minimum wages than in federal minimum wage states.