By MIKE LAMM
Earlier this year in his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama strongly endorsed raising the minimum wage, calling for an across-the-board increase to $10.10 from the current $7.25, a rate which has not changed since 2009.
In making the proposal, Obama pointed out that “in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone to get ahead. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong,” he commented.
“Those at the top have never done better, but average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled,” Obama noted, adding “An increase on the minimum wage would mean a raise for 17 million Americans, be good for the economy and has the broad backing of a majority of Americans — not just Democrats, not just independents, but Republicans too. It’s the right thing to do,” he concluded.
The earning power of the American worker, once the envy of the rest of the world, has stagnated for over 30 years. According to economist Thomas Piketty, the level of income from labor in the U.S. is “probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.”
Piketty reports that in 2013, the gap between the richest one percent and the remaining 99 percent was the widest it’s been since the 1920’s. Incomes of the wealthiest one percent rose nearly 20 percent, whereas the income of the remaining 99 percent rose one percent in comparison. From 1992 to 2007, the top 400 earners in the U.S. saw their income increase 392 percent and their average tax rate reduced by 37 percent.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Even though corporate profits are at historic highs, the wage and benefit growth of the vast majority has stagnated. The fruits of overall growth have accrued disproportionately to the top one percent.”
Merrill Lynch wealth management expert Lisa Shalett found real average hourly earning in the U.S. “are essentially flat to down, with today’s inflation-adjusted wage equating to about the same level as that attained by workers in 1970,” despite the fact that for the last two decades, and especially in the current period, productivity has “soared.” The benefits of productivity during this cycle have gone “almost exclusively to corporations and their very top executives,” Shalett pointed out.
Mother Jones magazine reports, “A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household.” The average income for the bottom 90 percent of American society is $31,244, according to the magazine, which adds that if the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would be nearly $92,000.”
Currently, assuming an individual works a 40-hour week at the current minimum wage, that person’s gross pay before taxes would be $290. Multiplied by 52 weeks, the annual income of that worker would be $15,080, which is $650 LESS than the poverty line of $15,730 for a single parent with one child.
As President Obama noted in his State of the Union speech, “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” The Minimum Wage website indicates “4.6 million married couples with children, 12.4 million childless single people and 2.8 million single parents” are currently paid the minimum wage by their employers.
In concluding his comments on the minimum wage, Obama stated “Every American deserves to know where your elected representatives stand on this issue.”
Two weeks ago, legislation to increase the minimum wage finally reached the United States Senate, but Republican lawmakers filibustered the bill, refusing to allow the matter to even come up for discussion on the floor of the Senate. Indiana Senators Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats cast opposing votes as to whether or not representatives should address the issue.
Donnelly, a Democrat, stated, “We owe it to the Hoosier families that depend on minimum wage jobs to have this debate, which is why I’m disappointed the Senate failed to reach a bipartisan agreement to even have this important discussion.”
For his part, Republican Coats explained his vote against talking about an increase in the federal minimum wage by commenting, “If our purpose is to increase the wages of all Americans, I believe there are better ways to accomplish this goal.” Unfortunately, Coats could not and did not list any of those “better ways.”
The Political Research Quarterly concluded elected officials tend to be more responsive to the upper income bracket and ignore lower income groups. Voters should take this fact into consideration when selecting their government officials in the hope of electing individuals actually representing the majority of their constituents, rather than just those with deep pockets and unlimited campaign contributions.
The poorest Americans deserve representation in our democracy if we are to seriously consider ourselves the greatest nation on earth.
Raise the minimum wage.
The author is a general assignment reporter with the Decatur Daily Democrat.