Progressives call on Congressional Leaders to Support Raising the Minimum Wage
Dear Sen. Reid, Rep. Boehner, Sen. McConnell, and Rep. Pelosi:
We are reaching out to you today to ask you to support raising the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. Ten dollars per hour would be slightly less than the minimum wage of 1968, adjusted for inflation. Hard-working Americans across the country cannot afford to wait any longer for Congress to act, as they continue to struggle in a stalled economic recovery.
In the past few years, working people in this country have had to endure devastating economic conditions. In the aftermath of the Wall Street-produced financial crisis, millions were left unemployed, without a home, saddled with enormous college loans, and struggling to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the economy continues to lag, and millions of Americans remain out of work, underpaid, or in low-paying, part-time jobs.
Catching up with 1968 or raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour would help 30 million workers across this country by starting the United States down the road to recovery through an increase in consumer spending. Congress and the President have been ignoring this issue, but we know now is the time to act. Polls regularly show 70 percent of Americans support minimum wage keeping up with inflation, including Rick Santorum and, until recently, Mitt Romney.
Every year that the minimum wage stays the same, minimum wage workers are effectively taking a pay cut. The cost of living increases annually. Meanwhile, inflation devalues what one can buy at the current minimum wage level. Inflation has been allowed to slowly but consistently reduce the purchasing power of a minimum wage for more than four decades.
By not acting, Congress is speaking loud and clear: they are telling minimum wage workers nationwide that they are not worth as much as they were a year ago. In 2008, nominee Barack Obama pledged to press for a $9.50 minimum wage by 2011.
Since 1968, when the minimum wage was worth an inflation-adjusted $10.57, it has lost nearly 50 percent of its value. Meanwhile, according to Forbes’ annual survey of CEO compensation, since 1970, average value of total compensation for CEO’s has skyrocketed over 900 percent.
Enough is enough. Every major western country has a minimum wage considerably higher than that of the U.S. In Canada, Ontario’s minimum is $10.25 per hour.
Americans are also tired of the system of corporate welfare-bailout economics, giving massive subsidies to huge corporations, and tax cuts for the richest 1 percent. Those policies simply don’t work.
Nearly 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. A single Wall Street executives’ compensation of $15 million would pay the annual wages of over 700 workers working at a minimum wage of $10 per hour. To put this in perspective, Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan, received $42 million in compensation last year, according to Forbes, despite recent revelations that J.P. Morgan lost $5.8 billion so far on one trading position. His compensation alone could employ over two thousand workers making $10 per hour. Talk about the potential to be a “job creator.”
A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that for every dollar increase to the wage of a minimum wage worker, the result is $2,800 in new consumer spending from that worker’s household over the year.
In 1989, members of Congress passed a law that put into effect automatic annual increases in their pay, the “Ethics Reform Act of 1989.” In the same year, Congress also voted to increase the minimum wage to $4.25 per hour by 1991 (an inflation-adjusted $7.17). Since that time, Congress has increased its own annual salary 13 times, while it has voted only twice to increase the minimum wage.
It is time for Congress to stop being perceived by a disapproving public as looking after its own interests and the interests of members’ political donor classes and instead start working for the American people. A bailed-out Wall Street has the money, but people have the votes.
We look forward to your expeditious response.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Author
Ben Cohen, Founder, Ben and Jerry’s
Bill Fletcher, Jr., Author/Activist
John Cavanagh, Director, IPS
Nomi Prins, Author
Peter Edelman, Georgetown Law Center
Professor Robert C. Fellmeth
Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Rose Ann DeMoro, Director, National Nurses United