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Public Statements

Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


FAIR MINIMUM WAGE ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - January 30, 2007)

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Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, I come to the floor today to support a long overdue raise for America's lowest paid workers from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour.

As you know, more than 6 million hourly workers currently earn less than $7.25 an hour. They work hard, they pay taxes, they try to raise strong families. For a few them, it is a first job, they are young, and they do not have to support anyone else. But 80 percent of them are adults, and about half of them are their household's primary breadwinner. Forty-seven percent of them are poor, and many have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

Work should keep Americans out of poverty. It should make it possible for you to live with dignity and respect, to have a comfortable place to live in a safe neighborhood, to see a doctor, to have a shot at education, to save a little money, to enjoy the opportunities of this great country. But that's out of reach for most people at $5.15 and hour. It is time that we do better by those in our workforce who make the least.

The Federal minimum wage is at its lowest inflation-adjusted level since 1955, and it has been stagnant for almost a decade. That does not reflect well on our country and Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of an increase. In fact 29 States and countless cities have taken action and set higher minimums of their own. It is time for the Federal Government to do the same. And I know we can achieve that in a bipartisan way.

We have had a vigorous debate about the impact of the minimum wage on employment levels and on small businesses. And I agree that all policy decisions must be made with full consideration of possible unintended consequences. But the evidence clearly indicates that raising the minimum wage is good for workers and that the effects on small businesses are negligible.

Following the most recent increase in the Federal minimum wage in 1997, the low-wage labor market actually performed better than it had in decades, with lower unemployment rates, higher average hourly wages, higher family income and lower rates of poverty. And most studies of State minimum wage increases have found no measurable negative impact on employment.

A group of 650 economists, including several Nobel laureates, recently issued a statement, saying: ``We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed.'

They further note:

While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families.

But raising the minimum wage is not just good economics, it is also a statement of our commitment to each other as Americans. I am convinced that most Americans agree that the person who serves your food or handles your checkout at the grocery store deserves to be paid a decent wage. Most people agree that parents working full time--no matter what their job or occupation--should not have to raise their children in poverty.

In fact, I think that most Americans worry, as I do, that even $7.25 an hour is not enough in many parts of the country where a living wage that would cover housing, schooling and healthcare needs might have to be twice as high or more.

But the increase to $7.25 would restore the value of the minimum wage that inflation has eroded since the last increase nearly a decade ago. It would mean an additional $4,200 in annual earnings for a full-time, minimum wage worker. It would trigger additional increases in the earned-income tax credit for low-income parents.

Today, a family of four with one minimum-wage earner lives in poverty. With the increase in the minimum wage, that family would be lifted 5 percent above the poverty line instead of being 11 percent below the poverty line in 2009, as it would be under current law.

The minimum wage cannot be the end of our commitment to help working families. But it is an important place to start.

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