PASSING THE MINIMUM WAGE
Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, every day we see more evidence that this economy is not working for millions of Americans. One troubling trend is the growing divide between rich and poor the widening gap in income inequality and the distribution of wealth in our country.
Over the past 24 years, the most fortunate Americans, in the top 1 percent, saw their incomes more than double from an average of $306,000 to over $700,000. During that same period, the incomes of average Americans grew just 15 percent.
But the poorest fifth of our citizens saw their already inadequate incomes grow just $600--over 24 years.
As a result, the top 1 percent of Americans now get over 12 percent of all the income, up over 50 percent 24 years ago. And the share of the average family actually dropped. The share going to the bottom fifth dropped even more.
We are moving apart, not coming together, as a nation. Last year, the Chair of the Federal Reserve called growing concentration of income in the hands of a tiny minority ``a really serious problem.''
There are many things we need to do to get our economy working for working families. One place to start is at the bottom among those Americans who work at full-time jobs and remain below the poverty line. We should not permit that to happen. If we honor work, we have to reward it. We should not stand for any American to work a full-time job and come home too poor to meet the basic needs.
The minimum wage has not increased since 1996--and all of that increase has been wiped out by the cost of living. The minimum wage today, at $5.15 an hour, is even worth less in today's dollars than the $4.25 rate it replaced.
Today, the minimum wage is worth only a third of the average hourly wage of American workers, the lowest level in more than half a century. The bottom rung of the ladder of opportunity is broken. It is time to fix it.
That is why I am a cosponsor of S. 1062, which will raise the minimum wage in three stages, over the next 3 years, to $7.25 an hour.
That means a pay raise for over 7 million workers and lifting the floor under everybody's wages.
It has been 10 years since we last raised the minimum wage. Over the past few years, we have passed tax cuts that last year alone gave over $100,000 to the wealthiest among us. The gap between rich and poor is now as big as it was during the Great Depression.
Raising the minimum wage is only the first step in restoring balance and fairness to our economy. But it is past time for us to take that step. We must not wait any longer.