09/02/2014 06:15 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2014

Fighting to Give You a Raise

This past Labor Day, President Barack Obama once again reminded us why Congress must increase the federal minimum wage. In America, the land of opportunity, no one who works 40 hours per week should be struggling to raise a family. Yet that is exactly what is happening. People in cities from Detroit to Chicago are demanding the long overdue pay raise that they deserve. At least 23 states have heard this call to action and raised their minimum wages above the federal level. It is now time for Congress to act and pass legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage because America cannot afford to do otherwise.

Since 1968, the real value of the federal minimum wage has fallen by nearly one-third. Had the minimum wage been tied to inflation, it would be about $10.70 today. Consequently, increases in minimum wage have not kept pace with the rising costs of basic necessities for the average American family. What I find even more disturbing, however, is that income inequality has increased by 23 percent since 2008.

In an effort to address this, I joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and my Democratic colleagues earlier this year to sign a discharge petition to bring the Fair Minimum Wage Act to the House floor for a vote. This bill would increase the federal minimum wage over the next three years from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. The boost would benefit more than 28 million people across the country -and save taxpayers $4.6 billion annually. In New York alone, the pay raise would help low-income households afford 14 weeks of groceries, 36 tanks of gasoline or more than a month of rent.

Yet the Republican leadership blocked this bill from passing the House and once again demonstrated their total disregard for the millions of hardworking American families. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's new so-called "Expanding Opportunity in America," which he claims is an "anti-poverty" plan, does nothing to address one of the greatest challenges we now face: the lack of opportunities to help lift 50 million people out of poverty. Chairman Ryan previously proposed an anti-poor budget plan that would end benefits for 3.8 million SNAP recipients and leave at least 40 million people - or about 1 in 8 Americans - without health insurance by 2024.

If we want to help build real, lasting economic security, the federal minimum wage must be raised to a living wage. I am very proud that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set an example for the nation by raising the State's minimum wage to $9.00 by 2016. However we cannot and must not stop there, because $9.00 an hour falls far short of the $11.50 an hour that would barely constitute a living wage for a typical New Yorker. That is why, when I learned that New York City airport workers were receiving just $8 an hour, I urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to give them a raise. The Port Authority voted to do just that, and as a result, 12,000 minimum wage workers at New York City's LaGuardia and Kennedy airports will receive an hourly wage of $10.10 by the end of 2015. This increase will make a major difference in these workers' lives.

At its core, raising the federal minimum wage to a living wage is not just about ensuring fair compensation, but also preserving justice and dignity for all workers. If Republicans truly care about our country, they should abandon their destructive agenda and join Democrats in Congress in answering the President's call to pass legislation that will provide everyone in America with the opportunity to succeed.