While most of the political class fixates on the botched Affordable Care Act rollout, Congress is gearing up for a vote on raising the minimum wage. There is almost no chance this Congress will pass this bill, but it’s important that Democrats – and others who care about safeguarding the opportunity to earn a living wage in America – call attention to the inequality that increasingly characterizes the nation, and has been institutionalized by a conservative political agenda.
In 2010, Democracy Corps launched the Economy Project: Our ongoing and in-depth study of how middle-class and working people adapt to the economy, and how progressives should address it on their terms.
What we have learned is that while people generally sense a macro recovery, and even notice job growth, they also feel that the jobs that are being created do not pay a living wage:
And they are right. In real dollars, the minimum wage was actually higher 40 years ago than it is today.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum wage was $1.60 in 1968. Had it kept up with inflation, it would be $10.74 today. Instead, it’s stagnant at $7.25 an hour. Working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, a minimum-wage employee can expect to earn $15,080 — below the federal poverty level for a family of two. This is not enough to live on, anywhere in the country.
We know that this is a crucial issue — not just one of fairness and opportunity, but of common sense and national economic stability.
When we looked at the national response to President Obama’s last State of the Union address, we found tremendous support for raising the minimum wage. When the president urged Congress to take up this issue and pass a living wage bill, the response was overwhelmingly favorable among all but Republicans.
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This is simply not a controversial issue. In its November 11 survey, Gallup found that three-quarters of Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour — including majorities of Republicans (58 percent), Independents (76 percent), and Democrats (91 percent).
Meanwhile, 19 states — 12 of which are wholly controlled by Democrats — have a minimum wage higher than the national rate. Of the nine states with a minimum wage lower than the federal rate, or without any state minimum, all but one are wholly GOP-controlled. Despite overwhelming national support for setting a higher minimum, Congress has voted to raise it only three times in the last 30 years. And this Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to break the trend.