The 99% Need a Raise: It’s Time to Increase the Minimum Wage
For Jessica Nunez, a trip to the grocery store in Rockville, Md., means at least 15 hours of work. Jessica makes minimum wage – just $7.25 an hour. With take home pay at $28 a day, Jessica feeds her partner and three daughters with three days’ work. Putting gas in the car takes six hours of work. Jessica recently told me, “Six months ago I was living in a shelter and going to community college. I wanted a job and a home for my family to get them out of there. The best I could do was finding a job at Duncan Donuts; I make $7.25 an hour. I work about 25 hours a week; in some ways, I was better off financially not working and living in the shelter.”
Jessica is not alone. A tenth of working Americans earn minimum wage and 35 million Americans—more than a quarter of our workforce—earn less than $10.55 an hour. How do you support a family on $15,000 a year?
On July 24, the third anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage, Jessica will join with people across the country to say: It’s time to raise the minimum wage.
When Wall Street and big business crashed the economy, millions of hardworking Americans suffered, from middle-class families to minimum-wage earners teetering on the edge. While corporations and the 1% continue to rake in billions (many companies make more profit now than before the crash) and benefit from the Bush tax cuts, the rest of us are left to struggle.
In the Maryland and Virginia, the minimum wage mirrors the federal wage. In the District of Columbia, it is a dollar higher than the federal $7.25. Tens of thousands families live in the poverty of minimum-wage employment.
Raising the federal minimum wage is not only a popular idea, it’s a bipartisan one: 91 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents and 50 percent of Republicans support raising the minimum wage. There is legislation pending in the House and the Senate to raise the federal minimum wage to put more money in the pockets of ordinary Americans. Congressional representatives in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia should support this legislation.
Raising the minimum wage would have real economic benefits. Higher-paid workers can afford more goods and services, stimulating the local economy and creating more jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that a current federal proposal to increase the minimum wage would generate more than $25 billion in consumer spending and create more than 100,000 new jobs as businesses ramp up their workforces to respond to increased demand.
With the evidence and public opinion solidly in favor of raising the minimum wage, some businesses are doing the right thing. Retailers such as Costco and Trader Joe’s pay their workers above the federally mandated minimum wage—and have much better worker retention than average. Meaning they spend far less on costly training to replace workers who leave in search of better jobs. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart, the largest employer in the United States, has mammoth employee retention problems and according the National Employment Law Center pays the lowest U.S. wages.
Washington area workers who work hard and play by the rules should not live in poverty. It’s time to raise the federal minimum wage and create an economy that works for working people and not just the richest 1% and corporations.