KENNEDY WORKS TO FIND SOLUTIONS FOR AMERICA'S MINIMUM WAGE EMPLOYEES
ADDRESSES THE CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS' PANEL ON MINIMUM WAGE
Washington, DC -- Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered opening remarks at the Center for American Progress' panel discussion on raising the minimum wage. Kennedy has fought for decades on behalf of America's minimum wage workers and leads the effort in the Senate to raise it. Yet, time and time again the Republican-controlled has blocked those efforts, caving to corruption and special interests. After years of federal inaction, states across the country have recognized that those who work hard to make a living shouldn't be gripped by poverty.
"Raising the minimum wage is a profoundly moral issue," Senator Kennedy said, "it is wrong that hard-working men and women cannot afford to put food on the table or heat their homes. It is wrong to give billions upon billions of dollars in tax relief to the wealthy, but turn your backs on the hard-working families who live in poverty each day, and the 14 million children who go to bed hungry each night."
Congress received their seventh pay increase in nine years, while there has not been a single pay increase to our lowest paid workers. Since January of 2004, eleven states have raised their minimum wage either legislatively or through a ballot initiative. In all, 17 states and the District of Columbia now have minimum wages above the federal rate of $5.15.
Below are Senator Kennedy's remarks and fact sheets on minimum wage: Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy Center for American Progress Minimum Wage Event (As Prepared for Delivery)
The wages that we pay our workers make a profound statement about who we are as a nation. The American Dream is about working hard to build a better life for your family. In the wealthiest country on the face of the earth, no one that works hard for a living should have to live in poverty.
So raising the minimum wage is a profoundly moral issue. It is wrong that hard-working men and women cannot afford to put food on the table or heat their homes. It is wrong to give billions upon billions of dollars in tax relief to the wealthy, but turn your backs on the hard-working families who live in poverty each day, and the 14 million children who go to bed hungry each night.
Americans understand fairness, and that is not fair. Americans understand right and wrong, and that is wrong.
The people understand what this Republican Congress does not -- that a fair increase in the minimum wage is long overdue. Minimum wage workers are men and women of dignity. They take care of young children in day care centers. They care for elderly parents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They check out groceries in the supermarket and clean our office buildings.
These Americans work as hard as anyone else -- and often harder. But the minimum wage they receive doesn't cover their bills. A minimum wage employee who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, will make about $10,700 a year. For a family of three, that's almost $6,000 below the poverty line.
In this era of skyrocketing costs, these hardworking Americans are forced to make impossible choicesbetween paying the rent or buying food, between paying the heating bill or paying the doctor. Today, minimum wage workers can't afford adequate health care, and can't afford adequate housing for their families anywhere in the country.
While these courageous Americans struggle to get by, Congress lacks the courage to stand up to the special interests and increase the minimum wage. The nine years since it was last increased is the longest period without a raise since the minimum wage was enacted in 1938.
We've tried time and again in recent years to pass an increase. Our Fair Minimum Wage Act will raise it to $7.25 an hour in three steps over the next two years. It will directly raise the pay of seven and a half million workers, and indirectly benefit eight million more.
Raising the minimum wage isn't just a fairness issue -- it's also a women's issue, because more than 60 percent of the workers who will benefit are women. It's a children's issue, because more than half of these women have children. It's a civil rights issue, because African-Americans and Hispanic Americans are far more likely to work in low-paying jobs.
What raising the minimum wage shouldn't be is a partisan issue.
We have raised the minimum wage eight times since it was enacted in the 1930s, including three increases under Republican Presidents. It's certainly not a partisan issue for the American people. At the state level, we've had minimum wage victories in red states and blue states alike.
Indeed, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have responded to our inexcusable inaction at the federal level by raising their minimum wages at the state level. But, there are still millions of hardworking Americans across the country who have had no increase. That's why the fight in Congress is so important.
Americans are paying a high cost for the Republican culture of corruption in Washington -- the worst corruption since Watergate. The Republican leadership continues to serve special interests and ignore the priorities that matter most to working Americans. There is no better example of those distorted priorities that our failure to raise the federal minimum wage.
The Republican leadership is out of touch on this issue. They are caving in to industry lobbyists and special interests, and ignoring what's best for working Americans. When we give the people a chance, they always vote for fairness. It's time for us in Congress to do the same, and vote to raise the minimum wage.
RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE IS A MATTER OF FAIRNESS
The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three steps:
$5.85 60 days after enactment; $6.55 one year later; $7.25 one year after that
The number of Americans in poverty has increased by 5.4 million since President Bush took office. 37 million people live in poverty, including 13 million children. Among full-time, year-round workers, poverty has increased by 50 percent since the late 1970s. An unacceptably low minimum wage is a key part of the problem.
Minimum wage employees working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, $5,900 below the federal poverty guidelines of $16,600 for a family of three. Since Congress last acted to raise the minimum wage in 1996, its real value has eroded by 18 percent.
Every day the minimum wage is not increased it continues to lose value, and workers fall farther and farther behind. Minimum wage workers have already lost all of the gains of the 1996-1997 increase.
Today, the real value of the minimum wage is more than $3.00 below what it was in 1968. To have the purchasing power it had in 1968, the minimum wage would have to be more than $8.50 an hour today, not $5.15.
Over seven million workers will directly benefit from the minimum wage increase.
Raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour will mean an additional $4,370 a year to help minimum wage earners support their families. It would be enough money for a low-income family of three to buy:
More than one year of groceries; Over 9 months of rent; A year and a half of heat and electricity; or Full tuition for a community college degree.
This year, the Senate raised its pay by $3,100. It is shameful that Members of Congress received our seventh pay increase in nine years, yet in those same nine years, we have not provided a single pay increase to the lowest paid workers.
The salaries of lawmakers have gone up by $31,600 since 1997, while minimum wage workers continue to earn just $10,700 a year.
History clearly shows that raising the minimum wage has not had any negative impact on jobs, employment, or inflation. In the four years after the last minimum wage increase passed, the economy experienced its strongest growth in over three decades. Nearly 11 million new jobs were added, at a pace of 232,000 per month. In contrast, in the last four years the minimum wage has held steady, but only 4.0 million jobs have been created.
A fair increase is long overdue. Congress should act as quickly as possible to pass a minimum wage increase that reflects the losses suffered as the result of our shameful inaction in the past. No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty.
MINIMUM WAGE STATE BALLOT INITIATIVES
States with measures already on the ballot for 2006:
Nevada: Although in 2004 Nevada passed a ballot initiative by 68% to increase the minimum wage, constitutional amendments are required to be voted on twice before becoming law. After the 2004 vote the measure was put automatically on the 2006 ballot.
States currently gathering signatures for ballot measures:
Arizona o Proposed wage: $7.75, with future increases indexed to inflation
Michigan o Proposed wage: $6.85, with future increases indexed to inflation
Ohio o Proposed wage: $6.85, with future increases indexed to inflation
Missouri o Proposed wage: $6.50, only for workers over 18
States that have filed ballot measures and are waiting for approval to gather signatures:
Arkansas o Proposed wage: $6.15
Montana o Proposed wage: $6.15
States that are considering mounting a ballot initiative campaign:
Colorado Oklahoma North Dakota South Dakota