On the #RaiseItDamnIt Campaign and the Need to Raise the Poverty-Level $7.25 Federal Minimum Wage

The following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund:

“Today marks yet another year of federal inaction on the minimum wage.  Congress last acted to raise the minimum wage almost 10 years ago, and the rate has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009. NELP Action is joining organizations across the country to demand that Congress leave partisan politics aside and ensure that a fair day’s work means a fair day’s pay in this country. Through the #RaiseItDamnIt campaign, workers and their families will be able to send a unified, clear message to legislators that the time to act is now.

“By any standard, the current $7.25 minimum wage fails to account for the major contributions of workers to our economy.  Had the minimum wage kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be approximately $11 per hour today.  Had it kept up with productivity, it would have exceeded $21 per hour in 2012.  And while the minimum wage has stagnated and wages, generally, have declined for low-wage workers across the country for years, inequality has grown by leaps and bounds.  In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took in more than half of the country’s total income, and the top 1 percent, alone, took in more than one-fifth.

“The potential benefits of a higher federal minimum wage are clear.  Twenty years of economic research tells us that we can raise the minimum wage without a discernible impact on employment.  Impact assessments of a $12 federal minimum wage conclude that it would raise wages for more than one in four workers—or 35 million people.  It would address racial disparities in pay that plague our communities—a $12 minimum wage would raise pay for 35 percent of African American workers and 38 percent of Hispanic workers.  Women stand to benefit disproportionately as well—a $12 minimum wage would raise wages for close to 20 million women—or 30 percent of wage-earning women.  A higher federal minimum wage would no doubt benefit Main Street businesses and local economies in need of stronger consumer demand.  Moreover, over 200 economists have endorsed Bernie Sanders’ $15 minimum wage bill.

“Democrats recently added a $15 minimum wage to the party’s platform as its first item, and Democratic-controlled legislatures in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. have adopted a $15 minimum wage in those states.

“The Republican Platform, on the other hand, tells us that the GOP believes that the ‘[m]inimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.’  This amounts to opposition of any minimum wage increase, however, and exposes the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue.  Republican-controlled legislatures have rushed in recent years to ‘preempt’—i.e., prohibit—cities, towns, and counties from raising their own minimum wage.  Alabama presents a recent egregious example: Birmingham’s city council passed a $10.10 minimum wage last year that would have benefited over 40,000 workers in the city.  Republican state legislators responded by quickly banning Birmingham and all other Alabama cities from raising wages. Of the 21 states that have refused to set a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, and where the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 per hour, 15 have passed legislation to preempt local minimum wage laws.  To date, 20 states have adopted minimum wage preemption laws and more are expected to follow.

“The #RaiseItDamnIt campaign will highlight worker voices and the need for federal action in the coming months, but, ultimately, when nearly two-thirds of voters support increasing the minimum wage to $15 and 75 percent low-wage workers support both a $15 minimum wage and a union, Congress can no longer justify delay.”

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The National Employment Law Project Action Fund, a project of The Advocacy Fund, is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers.  For more about the NELP Action Fund, visit www.nelpaction.org.