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Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007

Location: Washington, DC

FAIR MINIMUM WAGE ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - February 01, 2007)


Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, I support the bipartisan compromise legislation on Iraq. I urge my colleagues to support it as well. It is a stunning repudiation of the President's misguided strategy in Iraq, and it will put the Senate squarely on record in opposition to the surge. It is a clarion call for change and a vote of no confidence in the President's failed policy.

It was wrong for the President to take the country to war when we did, the way we did, and for the false reasons we were given. It is wrong to compound that mistake now by sending tens of thousands of additional American troops into the middle of a civil war now taking place.

The American people oppose this escalation. Many generals oppose it. A bipartisan majority of Congress opposes it as well. I especially commend our colleague, Senator Warner, for his extraordinary service to the Nation and making this compromise possible.

Could our message to the White House be any louder or clearer? I intend, however, to press for binding action that will prevent the surge, unless the President changes course. If he doesn't, I will seek a vote at the first appropriate opportunity. It is wrong for the President to escalate this war and send more American soldiers into the cauldron of civil war.

We are very hopeful that through the course of the afternoon we are going to be finally able to get a vote on the increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. This is the 9th day we have been on this particular legislation. We have had over $240 billion worth of increased tax preferences that have been suggested and recommended--always on the increase on the minimum wage.

This is not a very complex issue. We have not raised the minimum wage in over 10 years. The purchasing power of the minimum wage has gone down and down, and even with the increase now to $7.25 an hour, it will only be restored to the purchasing power it had 10 years ago.

This is an issue of fairness. It is about people who work and work hard. It is about men and women of dignity who want to do a good job and also want to provide for their children. So I am very hopeful we will have a chance this afternoon to move ahead and vote. We, on this side, have been prepared to vote on that increase from the first day. The House of Representatives only took 4 hours. The Democrats were joined by 80 Republicans to increase the minimum wage.

But over here, we have had 9 days of debate on the minimum wage, with a host of different amendments and still, outside of cloture, we would have 96 amendments that would have been offered by our friends on that side.

I saw yesterday that the President of the United States went to Wall Street and made a speech about how good everything was in terms of the American economy. I noticed that. I read through the speech. He was very robustly cheered by Wall Street during his recitation of some of the facts of what has been happening in the American economy. But although the economy has worked very well for Wall Street--I don't know of anybody who is doubting that--it is a different situation on Main Street. We have seen and heard, during the course of this debate, from many of our colleagues who related many of the stories they witnessed firsthand as they campaigned in their States and as they supported the initiatives that took place in some six States across the country. Rather than jobs that were going to lift you out of poverty, they are ending up being jobs that keep you in poverty. A minimum wage job was never meant to keep you in poverty. That is what it is doing today.

To review what our situation is, looking at the growth of poverty in the United States, these are some of the figures that were not included in the President's speech yesterday. Between 2000 and 2005, 5.4 million more Americans are in poverty in this Bush economy. This is in the last 5 years, from 2000 to 2005. What is more distressing is the number of children who are now living in poverty. This is the other side of the economic coin. This is not Wall Street; this is what is happening in communities all across our country. These are census figures, as of August 2006. We have 1.3 million more children who are living in poverty. We have not seen a reduction in the number of children in poverty; we have seen an increase in the number of children in poverty. This has followed quite a series of economic policies that have brought us to where we are at the present time. We saw that between 1947 and 1973--to put this administration's economic policies in some perspective because I think it is useful to try to find out exactly what it is and to understand it better. Rather than taking one speech at a time, why don't we look at what has been happening to the economy over the period of recent years.

This chart reflects statistics from 1947 to 1973, over a 25-year period, and these indicators are the five different quintiles of income for the American economy, with the lowest at 20 percent. What we are seeing is that all of the different economic groups rose and moved together. Actually, the ones that rose the most were those at the lowest part of the economic ladder. But what this chart is saying is that the economy of the United States of America was working for everyone during this 25-year period. Everyone. Everyone across the board was benefiting from the expanding economy.

If we look at 1973 to 2000, we begin to see the growth of these great disparities. This is from the Economic Policy Institute, and these are figures from 1973 to 2000. It was interesting that in the President's speech he talked about where we were 25 years ago. Of course, 25 years ago is when President Reagan was President, and this is what we find, which is right in the middle of that period and when this major disparity started to grow. This would be, obviously, starting in 1980, and this is 1973 to 2000.

The previous chart showed them all about even, with the lowest growing the fastest. Now we are seeing the flow line and the top moving along the fastest. And if we break this out even further, between 1973 and 2000, we find this growth disparity starting under the Republicans. It is 1980. The President made the reference to 25 years ago, and that is when the growth of this disparity started, and that is due to economic policies. Economic policies. You just can't get away from it.

If we look from 2000 to 2004, this chart reflects what has happened. Take the line that goes right across, and we find out that low-income Americans are actually losing income and falling the fastest. This is a Census Bureau historical income table. These are the governmental figures. So this isn't a speech, these are governmental figures. It shows this extraordinary growth in these disparities, and the people who have suffered the most have been children and also those at the lower end of the economic ladder, who are the minimum wage workers. And that is what we are trying to change on the floor of the Senate, to give them a break and give them a raise to $7.25.

We can see what has happened as a result of these economic policies of the recent past. These are the UNICEF child poverty figures, and we see across the industrial world that the United States has the highest child poverty rate, the highest child poverty rate of any industrial country in the world. So we have this idea on Wall Street that we can say everything is hunky-dory and yet be a nation where we have the highest child poverty rate in the world. And Lord only knows that this weekend probably every person in this Chamber will be making a speech about how children are our future and we have to invest in them, all of which is absolutely true, but we have been failing in our responsibility to look after what has been happening to the children in our country.

One might say: Well, this is all very interesting, but what has the minimum wage got to do with any of this, Senator? It is interesting, but the increase in the minimum wage doesn't solve these issues. And I agree with the President that we have to do more in terms of education. We have to do more in terms of training and in health and in nutrition for these children. There is a great deal more we have to do for children. It all starts, obviously, in the home, but schools are next, and then communities. We all have to do a great deal more, but these are rather startling indictments.

Look at where the poverty rate is in the United States. In States that have a high minimum wage, they have lower poverty rates. This is directly related to the subject matter here.

We have talked generally about economic trends. We have talked about the growth in poverty and the growth in child poverty. So one might ask: What can we do about it? Well, one major step forward we can take is doing something about the minimum wage. Let's prove it.

Look at this chart. These are States with higher minimum wages. They are the States that have voted for an increase in the minimum wage over the Federal minimum wage. Again, these are the Census Bureau's figures. The national poverty rate we see is the red line, and the States that have a higher minimum wage than the national average have less child poverty. Less child poverty.

This chart reflects poverty rates generally, with the next chart reflecting lower child poverty rates. Here is the increase in the minimum wage, and it shows where child poverty is. The other chart showed families living in poverty. This is what happens in States with a higher minimum wage. Again, these are all Census Bureau figures.

So we can do something about child poverty by increasing the minimum wage. And there are many other things we can do, such as increase the earned-income tax credit, support the CHIP, Medicaid expansion, and other types of outreach programs. But one thing we know we can do, and what we have before the Senate this afternoon, is the issue of whether we are going to make progress in reducing child poverty. That is the issue. That is one of the significant outcomes of the vote this afternoon.

We are seeing at the present time, according to the USDA, that we have 12.4 million children who are hungry under the Bush economy. This particular line is left out of the speeches on Wall Street. We have 12.4 million children who are going hungry every single day according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But here we see what happens with these 6.4 million children who will benefit from this increase in the minimum wage.

This is the spinoff from the increase in the minimum wage. We are going to get better attendance in our schools, better concentration, and better performance. We have seen that time and time again. We are going to get higher test scores and higher graduation rates; children with stronger immune systems, better health, fewer expensive hospital visits, and fewer run-ins with the juvenile justice system.

We should go back and look at the Perry preschool programs. The studies reflect that when we make these investments in children that we will see every one of these kinds of indicators come out in a positive way. And increasing the minimum wage, as I mentioned, will have an impact on 6.4 million children.

I will make just one final point, Madam President. We have 50,000 spouses of our military who are working today,

50,000 of them and their husbands, primarily husbands but also wives, who are serving in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, and many of them are in Iraq or Afghanistan or served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are earning $5.15 or slightly more an hour today. So when we ask what can we do to indicate to our men and women in uniform that we have some respect for their families, well, we have important responsibilities to their families. We can't expect we are going to have top-notch fighting personnel if they are worried about the economic condition of their families. Any military leader will tell you that.

So we have a responsibility to them because they are part of our national security, but we have a responsibility to them also if we are interested in having the most efficient kind of fighting force. Yet we have 50,000 members whose families are out there earning $5.15 or slightly more an hour. That can change. That will change. We can increase the benefits that reach these families.

Hopefully, we have had a good opportunity to talk about these issues. At earlier times in the debate we had questions about, well, what is going to be the impact on small business. We showed the charts where they had increased the minimum wage in some States and, actually, the numbers of small businesses and the expansion of small business and the profitability of small business had all been enhanced.

We had the question: Well, if we increase the minimum wage, will there be an increasing loss of employment? We demonstrated here the best answer to that is what has happened in the past. At other times, historically, when we saw this kind of increase in the minimum wage, we actually saw the unemployment figures continue to strip downward and the employment figures continued to drift upward. Those are the statistics. We put them out here and we haven't been challenged on any of these figures.

We also hear, although not a great deal during the course of this particular debate but in other debates, that this action will be inflationary. So we put the chart up that showed if we provide an increase in the minimum wage, in terms of the payroll, that the increase is just one-fifth of 1 percent of total payroll in this country. So the idea that it is going to add to inflation is basically misleading. Of course, it doesn't compare to the kinds of increases we have seen in a lot of these corporate salaries. I wish we had heard complaints about some of that as we were talking about the pressures of increased payout.

The arguments in favor of the increase are compelling, they are overwhelming, and, hopefully, we are going to have an opportunity this afternoon to finally get, after 10 years, an increase in the minimum wage. We have been standing virtually in the same place for 10 years trying to get an increase. We had 16 days of debate on the increase in the minimum wage outside of the last 9 days. So that is 25 days of discussion on the floor of the Senate as to whether we are going to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over, basically, a 2-year period. It has taken us all that time to get the Senate of the United States to hopefully vote positively on that proposal, but I am very hopeful that will be the case later in the afternoon.


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