To create opportunity for American workers, we must ensure that they can earn enough to support a family and afford life's very basics. Tomorrow, it will be exactly four years since our low-wage workers last saw a raise. Now more than ever, we must renew the call to increase the minimum wage.
If you work full time in the wealthiest nation on earth, you shouldn't live in poverty. You shouldn't have to lay awake at night worried about how you're going to pay the utility bill, or what you'll do if the car breaks down, or whether you can put dinner on the table the next day.
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President Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour. Since the last increase, its value has eroded 7.3 percent due to the rising cost of living, so the president also wants to index the minimum wage to inflation beginning in 2015. Why shouldn't workers' take-home pay keep up with the price of a gallon of milk or a pair of children's shoes?
The president's minimum wage increase is part of his vision of an economy where opportunity is available to everyone; where we all get a fair shake; where the middle class is within reach no matter who you are or where you come from.
There is a lot of sky-is-falling rhetoric suggesting that a higher minimum wage will be a catastrophic job-killer. But we've seen this movie before. This argument rears its ugly head every time an increase is on the table. The minimum wage has increased in 22 steps since the 1930s, thanks to strong bipartisan support. Not once did it send the nation into an economic death spiral.
Quite the contrary. A higher minimum wage boosts consumer demand, the engine that powers our economy during a recovery like this. Study after study from credible economists demonstrate that raising the minimum wage has no negative effect on employment and may be good for business as it leads to a more stable workforce with less turnover, lower training costs and higher productivity.
The minimum wage numbers tell a compelling story, as the above graphic illustrates:
- 4 years exactly since the last minimum wage increase took effect
- 6 years since Congress last acted on the issue
- 15 million workers would benefit from the president's proposal
- 1968: the year of the minimum wage's peak buying power before a 45-year decline
- 67 percent of small businesses support a minimum wage increase
But behind the numbers are stories of real people, their struggle and sacrifice -- a father working in the grueling heat as an airport baggage handler, a grandmother doing back-breaking work cleaning offices at night. They're working hard and taking responsibility. They're not looking for handouts or special favors. They just want a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
It is time to increase the minimum wage. As a matter of social justice, it's the right thing to do; as a matter of economic common sense, it's the smart thing to do.