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Delaware State News - Minimum Wage Increase a Good Beginning

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Delaware State News - Minimum Wage Increase a Good Beginning

Delaware State News
Guest Commentary

By Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Recently, the new Democratic controlled U.S. Senate took the first steep to act on the priorities Americans voted for in November: we passed legislation increasing the nation's minimum wage.

It was long overdue. In Delaware, since 1999, the state minimum wage has exceeded the federal wage. As proof that increasing the wage does not cost jobs, Delaware's unemployment rate is well below the national average.

The rest of the country is now catching up with the First State. Our minimum wage is $6.65 and will go up another 50 cents next January.

If the president sings into law what the Senate passed, and I'm hopeful he will, the nationwide minimum wage will go up to $5.85 in two months, the first increase in 10 years, and move up to $7.25 over the next two years.

The increase means a pay raise for 7 million people, and I support it because I want to lift the floor under everybody's wages. Let's face it—even the parent earning $14 an hour is being squeezed.

For years in this country, families earned a little more each year. Each year the number of families who could afford a middle-class standard of living got larger.

What was meaningful wasn't that families got a pool table in the basement, or even that they had a basement. It was a sense of promise, a sense of a better life, the sense of progress.

But from 2000 to 2005, the national median household income actually declined by more than $ 1,200. That happened as the cost of gasoline increased from $1.47 the day President Bush was sworn in to $2.31 this week. The cost of college education has jumped by more than 50 percent. Health care premiums have soared by more than 80 percent.

Under the Republican-controlled Congress it was like somebody slanted the pool table, with all the balls on it, a quarter of an inch. While they passed tax cuts that gave more than $100,000 a year to each of the wealthiest among us, they let languish programs like Pell grants for college that could help working families.

Parents cannot be certain their kids will be better off than they were, or if they will be able to retire with dignity. The gap between rich and poor is now as big as it was during the Great Depression, with the top one percent of all Americans getting 12 percent of all the income.

Last Year, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Boards, called the growing concentration of income in the hands of a tiny minority "a really serious problem."

Raising the minimum wage will be the first step in restoring balance and fairness to our economy. Many more steps need to be taken to restore the middle class. I hope we continue to do what the voters asked: change priorities.

Editor's note: Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is running for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.

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