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Marcus Bright Headshot

Go Big on Poverty and the Minimum Wage

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It was correctly stated by MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Huffington Post Contributor Howard Fineman on the June 4 edition of Hardball that President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 on big ideas. People organized and were galvanized around the possibility of major changes in the area of healthcare, foreign policy and general economic recovery. While it is clear that the plight of the poor and working class is not anywhere close to the priority list for Mitt Romney as evidenced by his statement earlier this year that, "He's not concerned about the working poor because they have a safety net"; President Obama has not explicitly made addressing poverty a cornerstone of his administration.

Many people play by the rules and work hard every day but do not make enough money to adequately support their families. Minimum wage has never been enough to move a family above the poverty level if only one person in the family works. Raising the minimum wage to 10 dollars an hour as has been recently proposed by a group of House Democrats led by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is one big idea that people who are poor or are concerned about the plight of the poor can rally around. The time has come for actual legislation to be advanced and not just for empty rhetoric to be thrown about for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.

Some may think that 10 dollars an hour is too big of an amount. This is ironic, given that many of these same individuals didn't bat an eye when we spent billions of dollars rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq or continuously blow a massive hole in our national debt by the passage and extension of the irresponsible Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. There will surely be a large chorus of critics claiming that such a rise in the minimum wage would lead to job losses among "low skilled" workers, hurt small businesses and disrupt the operations of the free market.

Contrary to these frames of discourse, there is an expanding amount of research that has found that increases in minimum wage have not led to a loss of jobs. Exemptions for businesses with five employees or less can also be added to potential proposals to assist small business. The broader implications for economic consumption are also positive, as people with low incomes are much more likely to spend a greater percentage of their new income than their more affluent counterparts. The fact is that the federal minimum wage has failed to adequately correspond with the rate of inflation or the poverty level.

Unfortunately, the right wing has chosen to wage a narrow war on abortion and gay marriage while demonizing the poorest among us as lazy and undeserving. In our political system that is dominated by two parties, it's now left to the Democrats to advocate for and construct policy aimed not just at the middle class but also to make a better way of life for "the least of these." It is time to show that politicians can be responsive to the needs of the poor and not just the super rich who fund their campaigns and political action committees. In 2012, I urge the President and Congress to go big on poverty and raise the minimum wage.