Across the nation, the movement for an increase in the $7.25 Federal minimum wage is gaining momentum with groups and activists calling for a range from $10 to $15. People are marching, holding rallies, organizing and registering people to vote this November on minimum-wage increase referendums to be found on many state and local ballots.
The current $7.25 federal minimum wage has been law since July 2009. Since the October 1938 inception of a federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, the increase has been slow, usually resulting in 30- to 50-cent increases. It wasn’t until March 1956 that minimum wage rose to $1 an hour. In February 1968 it rose to $1.60, and six years later, to $2.
I remember my college work-study job. I made about $1.60 an hour and was paid once a month; that 30-plus dollars went a long way at Kmart. Today, some 30 years later, $7.25 an hour won’t buy much of anything, and it relegates many families to a life of poverty. A 40-hour week at $7.25 yields an annual salary of $15,080. The 2014 poverty guideline for a family of one earning $15,521 is considered living at 133 percent of the poverty guideline.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is supports an increase of the minimum wage to $13 an hour. The proposal, if it’s approved by the city council, would be phased in over four years.
It is reported the wage increase would help about 410,000 Chicagoans and deposit about $800 million into the economy over the next four years. This will also make a significant difference for families of color and Austin residents, who will no longer have to choose between food and medicine or toss a coin to see which bill will be paid. They won’t have to choose between new and adequate clothing, educational expenses or a family movie outing.
Chicago’s current minimum wage is $8.25, which is above the national minimum, but less than some other cities. Early this year, Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it one of the highest in the nation.
Across the nation, according to 2013 United States Department of Labor statistics, some 1.5 million are reported as earning exactly the national minimum wage. Another 1.8 million are reported as earning below the minimum. Many of these jobs are in the foodservice, personal care, occupational services and property cleaning and maintenance industries.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is a staunch supporter and vocal advocate for an increase, recently said if the federal minimum wage rate had kept pace with the increase in worker productivity, it would be at $22 an hour. Those who oppose the increase say it will have a devastating effect on job growth and that jobs will be lost. Many economist say just the opposite and stress that job growth will increase. In spite of this, we still have a long way to go.
An increase in the national minimum wage will bring stability to millions of families. So why is this not happening? Because more of us need to join in the campaign to raise the federal minimum wage.
We cannot sit back and wait for the legislatures to vote and do the right thing. We cannot wait for business owners and stockholders who are basting in record profits while some of their employees walk to work to gain a conscience and decide to share the wealth.
We have to call, write and join those who are pushing for the increase. We have to sign petitions, work with groups like SEIU, or form a group and send a message to the legislatures from the county to the federal level to increase the minimum wage by at least $10 an hour.
America needs an increase in the federal minimum wage, because it is time, it is necessary and America’s work force needs to be earning a living wage that puts them far above and not below the poverty guideline.
All of America’s citizens need to share in the richness of this “great nation.” Our communities, cities, state, and nation will be greater because of it.