Earlier this month, President Obama went to Texas to campaign for the minimum wage to be raised to $9 per hour.
Most economists agree that a raised minimum wage will improve the United States' economic health by increasing the purchasing power of workers in low-wage sectors. Depressed wages lead to lower tax returns, which Joseph Stiglitz argues has led to less money for programs at the state and federal level that maintain a middle class and even the playing field for those at the bottom. Increased federal returns would advert our government from making painful sequestration cuts and could fund universal early childhood education, among many other things.
Despite widespread support, including among 50 percent of Republicans following President Obama's State of the Union endorsement of raising the minimum wage , and 73 percent of Americans currently supporting raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour, the proposal has lost momentum. However, in March, Congress Republicans unanimously voted against California Representative George Miller's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; they weren't alone- six Democrats also voted against the measure.
Marco Rubio claims that increasing the minimum wage "wouldn't work". If raising the minimum wage won't work, then what will? As the most overworked industrialized country in the world, the majority of Americans cannot work any harder than they are already working.
U.S. workers already put in 11 more hours per week than they did during the 1970s, yet middle-class wages have decreased 13% since then, taking inflation into account. The real value of the minimum wage has only increased 21% since 1990, the national cost of living has risen 67%. With a minimum wage earner making only $15,080 annually versus the $30,000 required to achieve economic security, it is no wonder that the United States is experiencing the greatest economic divide since the Great Depression, with a record 43.6 million Americans living below the poverty line. Therefore, without increasing the minimum wage, what exactly is the GOP's magical solution to addressing our country's ever growing income gap and how do the Republicansplan on actually building a strong middle class?
But this is also coming from a party that also nearly ended federal assistance for the education of the children of U.S. soldiers killed in combat by letting the sequestration pass.
What is especially scary about the seeming lack of momentum to actually pass a comprehensive minimum wage law is that more and more college-educated workers are finding themselves in minimum wage jobs, meaning that instead of becoming our nation's middle class they are becoming working poor. 44% of U.S. college-educated workers are working minimum-wage or near minimum-wage jobs when national student debt hit 1 trillion dollars last year. With interest rates on student loans extremely high, and 70% more college graduates working minimum wage jobs than ten years ago (not to mention 49.7 million Americans living in poverty -- including twenty percent of U.S. children--, how can we not raise the minimum wage? Senators Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are pushing for reducing student loan interest rates. Senator Gillibrand's bill would force the U.S. Secretary of Education to fix student government loans at 4%. Senator Warren is advocating for student interest rates to be the same rate that banks pay. Not only is this fair, it is also essential in keeping our workforce educated and preventing continued -- and worsening -- grave economic disparities.
If the GOP actually wants to strengthen our middle class and fortify the economy, it must pass legislation that will decrease the enormous amounts of debt college graduates face while also making businesses invest in elevating the minimum wage. Although Elizabeth Warren argues that paying workers $10.10 per hour would only cost McDonald's 4 extra cents per menu, with the rare exception of companies like Cotsco, the push for a liveable minimum wage will not come from corporations. Multimillion dollar corporations that own Popeye's, Red Lobster, The Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouses, and Applebee's have forced employees to reduce their work hours in order to avoid covering their health insurance under Obamacare. Although fast food workers in New York City and across the country having been protesting to increase the minimum wage, companies like Panera and Walmart trying to do everything in their power to prevent employees from exercising free speech to earn a living wage and are being accused of wage theft in New York by some of the nation's lowest paid workers.
While Governor Rick Perry brags about Texas' low unemployment rate being one of the lowest in the country at 6.2 percent, 4.6 million Texans live in poverty in a state where $16,242 a year is the poverty line for a family of three. As a nation we cannot accept substandard employment that results in workers living in poverty.
Follow Laura Merriman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LauraEnNyc