Friday, March 2, 2012

Minimum Wage: Catching up with 1968

Guest Perspective By Ralph Nader
How inert can the Democratic Party be? Do they reallywant to defeat the Congressional Republicans in the fall by doing the rightthing?
A winning issue is to raise the federal minimum wage,stuck at $7.25 since 2007. If it was adjusted for inflation since 1968, not tomention other erosions of wage levels, the federal minimum would be around $10.
Here are some arguments for raising the minimum wage thisyear to catch up with 1968 when worker productivity was half of what it istoday.

1. Pure fairness for millions of hard-pressed Americanworkers and their families. Over 70 percent of Americans in national pollssupport a minimum wage that keeps up with inflation.

2. Already eighteen states have enacted higher minimumwages led by Washington state to $9.04 an hour. With the support of MayorMichael Bloomberg and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the New York Statelegislature is considering a bill to raise the state's minimum wage. Thelegislature should pass the long-blocked farm workers wage bill at the sametime.

3. Since at least 1968, businesses and their executiveshave been raising prices and their salaries (note: Walmart's CEO making over$11,000 an hour!) while they have been getting a profitable windfall from theirstruggling workers, whose federal minimum is $2.75 lower in purchasing powerthan it was 44 years ago.

4. The tens of billions of dollars that a $10 minimumwill provide to consumers' buying power will create more sales and more jobs.Aren't economists all saying the most important way out of the recession andthe investment stall is to increase consumer spending?

5. Most independent studies collected by the EconomicPolicy Institute show no decrease in employment following a minimum wageincrease. Most studies show job numbers overall go up. The landmark studyrebutting claims of lost jobs was conducted by Professors David Card and AlanKrueger in 1994. Professor Krueger is now chairman of President Obama's Councilof Economic Advisers.

6. Many organizations with millions of members are on therecord favoring an inflation-adjusted increase in the federal minimum wage.They include the AFL-CIO and member unions, the NAACP and La Raza, and hundredsof non-profit social service and religious organizations. They need to movefrom being on the record to being on the ramparts.

7. With many Republicans supporting a higher minimum wageand with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum on their side, a push in Congress willsplit the iron unity of the Republicans under Senator Mitch McConnell andSpeaker John Boehner and gain some Republican lawmakers for passage. This issuemay also encourage some Republican voters to vote for Democrats this fall. ARepublican worker in McDonalds or Walmart or a cleaning company still wants aliving wage.

8. President Barack Obama declared in 2008 that he wanteda $9.50 federal minimum by year 2011. If lip-service is the first step towardaction, he is on board too. There is no better time to enact a higher minimumwage than during an election year. Against millions of dollars in oppositionads in Florida in 2004, over 70 percent of the voters in a statewide referendumwent for a minimum wage promoted by a penniless coalition of citizen groups.

9. The Occupy movement can supply the continuing civicjolts around the local offices of 535 members of Congress, a slim majority ofwhom are not opposed to raising the minimum wage but who need that high profilepressure back home. Winning this issue will give the Occupy activists many newrecruits, and much more power for getting something done in an otherwise do-nothingor obstructionist corporate indentured Congress. About 80 percent of theworkers affected by a minimum wage increase are over 20 years of age.

Remember there is no need to offset a higher minimum wagewith lower taxes on small business a higher minimum wage. Since Obama tookoffice there have already been 17 tax cuts for small business and no increasein the federal minimum wage.

At the University of Virginia, twelve students have beguna hunger strike to protest the low wages and other injustices inflicted oncontract service-sector employees. Students at other universities are likely tofollow with their Living Wage Campaigns in this American Spring. They are fedup with millions of dollars for such top administrators' salaries or amenitiesas fancy practice facilities for athletes, while the blue collar workers can'tpay for the necessities of life.

Raising the federal wage to 1968 levels, inflationadjusted, is a winning issue. It just needs a few million Americans to rousethemselves for a few months as they do for their favorite sports team andconnect with all those large concurring organizations and their powerfullegislators, like Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a big supporter, to startthe rumble that will make it a reality.

If you are interested in more information on the effortsto raise the minimum wage, send an email to