Minimum Wage Stuck in the 1950s

Are you better off than you were 40 years ago? Not if you're a minimum-wage worker.

It would take $9.92 today to match the buying power of the minimum wage
at its peak in 1968, the year Martin Luther King died fighting for
living wages for sanitation workers.

In
today's dollars, the 1968 hourly minimum wage adds up to $20,634 a year
working full time. The new federal minimum wage of $7.25 comes to just
$15,080. That's $ 5,554 in lost wages.

"It
is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis ... getting
part-time income," King told workers in Memphis, Tenn., days before his
murder. King said, "We are tired of working our hands off and laboring
every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic
necessities of life."

Imagine what King would say today.

The
minimum wage is stuck in the 1950s. With the raise, the minimum wage is
higher than 1950's inflation-adjusted $6.71, but lower than the 1956
minimum wage of $7.93 in today's dollars.

The long-term fall in worker buying power is one reason we are in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The
federal minimum wage was not enacted during good times, but during the
extraordinarily hard times of the Great Depression. When the minimum
wage became law in 1938, one out of five workers was unemployed and job
creation was crucial.

President Franklin Roosevelt called the
minimum wage "an essential part of economic recovery." Roosevelt said,
millions of workers "receive pay so low that they have little buying
power. Aside from the undoubted fact that they thereby suffer great
human hardship, they are unable to buy adequate food and shelter, to
maintain health or to buy their share of manufactured goods."

Roosevelt said, "The increase of national purchasing power (is) an underlying necessity of the day." And so it is today.

Camille
Caramor, owner of a Louisiana Christmas tree farm and paralegal
service, says, "A minimum wage increase could be the most important
factor in powering our economy out of the recession."

Consumer spending makes up about 70 percent of our economy. The minimum wage sets the wage floor.

We can't build a strong economy on poverty wages.

A growing share of workers make too little to buy necessities - much less afford a middle-class standard of living.

A growing share of business revenue has gone to executive pay and profits.

In
1968, the richest 1 percent of Americans had 11 percent of national
income. By 2006, they had 23 percent - the highest share since 1928,
right before the Great Depression.

We can't build a strong, sustainable economy on a 1950s' wage floor, 1920s' income gaps and ballooning Wall Street bailouts.

U.S.
Women's Chamber of Commerce CEO Margot Dorfman says, "Now, more than
ever, it's imperative employees are paid a fair minimum wage. It is an
unsustainable and dangerous downward spiral to push American workers
into poverty and expect taxpayers to pick up the bill for the
consequences."

Dorfman is among 1,000 national business leaders
and small business owners supporting the minimum wage increase in a
statement at www.businessforafairminimumwage.org.

"Anyone who
thinks the minimum wage shouldn't be raised should try living on it,"
says Phillip Rubin, CEO of Computer Software for Professionals in
Oakland, Calif.

Michael Shuman, public policy director at the
fast-growing Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, says,
"Raising the minimum wage to $7.25 is an overdue step in providing a
decent, fair livelihood to American workers and creating a truly
'living economy.'"

If the minimum wage had stayed above the
nearly $10 value it had in 1968, it would have put upward pressure -
rather than downward pressure - on the average worker wage.

The
Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, which I advise, is calling for a
minimum wage of $10 in 2010. It's time to break the cycle of too
little, too late raises.

"A fair minimum wage protects the middle
class and gives entry level workers some economic breathing room," says
Lew Prince, co-owner of Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, Mo. "Rebuilding our
economy starts with showing hard-working Americans that their work will
be rewarded."

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