During a press conference at the Rochambeau Library in Providence this morning, U.S. Congressmen James Langevin and David N. Cicilline urged a renewed focus on legislation important to working Rhode Island families -- most notably the Fair Minimum Wage Act that both lawmakers have co-sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"It is time for us to acknowledge that the decline of the American middle class and the rise of income inequality are related, in part, to a largely stagnant federal minimum wage," said Langevin. "In addition to being the right thing to do for the hardworking families who now live in poverty, raising the minimum wage would boost our economy for everyone since low-income earners will most quickly spend that money at businesses in their communities."
"Passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act in the House would be a significant step towards ensuring that working Rhode Islanders know they will always be able to provide for themselves and their families," said Cicilline, who was recently appointed to serve on the House Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity. "I am proud to stand with Congressman Langevin on this important initiative."
Following this morning's press conference, Langevin and Cicilline blogged on the Huffington Post and reiterated their support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act and like-minded proposals that are important to working families. Over the past four years, the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant and lost value, failing to keep up with the cost of living and leaving working families to rely on government aid to make ends meet.
Presently, a full-time minimum wage worker makes only $14,500 -- an income level that leaves many struggling to make ends meet below the poverty line. Companies like Costco and Stride Rite have supported a minimum wage increase in the past, along with several leading economists, including Harvard Professor Lawrence Katz and former Chair of the President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers Laura Tyson.
"It's exactly the right thing to do, it's absolutely a necessity for all of those working tough, hard but necessary jobs in a currently downward economy, and it's an important step in allowing those same hardworking citizens to inch a little closer toward a sustainable middle-class existence," said Scott Duhamel, Secretary Treasurer of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over three years and provide a higher minimum wage for tipped workers. Enacting the Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase pay for as many as 30 million Americans and offer tipped workers their first pay hike since 1991.
"Raising the minimum wage is a win-win for Rhode Island; it puts more money in the pockets of low-wage workers and in the cash registers of local businesses," added Kate Brewster, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute.
Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is critical to taking partisan politics out of this debate. With passage of this bill, the purchasing power of minimum wage earners would no longer be held hostage by partisanship in Congress or powerful special interests.