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The Move Towards A Fair Minimum Wage


FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE, 1938-2012. PEW, December 4, 2013 



Incorporating circumstances from his own background to depict America’s growing income inequality as “the defining issue of our time,” the President, in a speech focused on the economy, called for raising the minimum wage and strengthening the social safety net. Ezra Klein describes this speech as the best economic speech the President has ever given. However, John Cassidy faults it for lacking ambition – calling the President’s policy prescriptions “small-bore measures.” Zachary Goldfarb views the speech as a road map for how the President intends to spend his final 37 months in office – concurring, on this point, with the Editors of the New York Times. The full transcript of the President’s speech is here.

In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt sent the Fair Labor Standards Act to Congress along with a message that America should provide working men and women “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” In a story that went viral days before Thanksgiving, a Wal-Mart store held a holiday canned food drive – for its own underpaid employees. In a recent poll from the Washington Post, six out of ten workers admitted worrying they will lose their jobs.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour or $15,000 per year for full-time work; but the Harkin-Miller Bill, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, currently pending in Congress, would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and link it to the Consumer Price Index. President Obama strongly supports raising the minimum wage; and, according to recent polls by both Hart Research and Gallup, so does the American public. However, the Harkin-Miller Bill materializes just nine months after House Republicans unanimously voted down a similar bill and pundits of every stripe agree minimum wage legislation stands no chance of passing in Congress.     

During the last 12 months, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and California passed measures to raise the minimum wage. California boosts the minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016. The movement to raise the minimum wage also is trickling down to local communities. Last week, the D.C. City Council unanimously voted to increase the minimum wage to $11.50. Citizens residing near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport voted last month to set the minimum wage rate at $15 an hour for airport and hotel workers. Read Bloomberg’s report on how the states are taking the lead on wage related issues, here. The odds of state initiatives duplicating federal action on the issue are discussed in the Wall Street Journal.

Steve Coll traces the current momentum around raising the minimum wage to residual fallout from the Great Recession. Edward Luce contends companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s are under real pressure to raise their workers’ salaries. George Packer explains how workers employed by these companies don’t make enough money to help stimulate the economy. For a comprehensive breakdown on why the current minimum wage falls far short of providing a living wage, read this. For additional data, here are five key facts about the minimum wage from Pew.

As if conceived as a coda to the President’s speech, fast-food workers in 100 cities across the Nation are participating in a one-day strike to raise the hourly wage across their industry to $15 per hour and preserve the right to unionize without retaliation. Striking a note of solidarity, 53 members of Congress sent a letter to restaurant executives urging fast-food chains to raise their workers’ wages. However, the size of a 67 percent pay increase has supporters of raising the wages of low-income workers, like Arindrajit Dube, worried. Read Economist David Neumark’s concerns in the Wall Street Journal. Ron Unz, Robert Reich, Douglas Holtz-Eakin and James Pethokoukis offer diverse opinions on this issue and the broader issue of income inequality here.

For a statistical profile of fast-food workers, dispelling the widely held misconception that teenage employees dominate this industry, read this. Seeking a human face to fully grasp why raising the pay for fast-food workers is the moral thing to do? Meet Eduardo Shoy.    

More than half of American families make $60,000 a year or less. Looking for a way to improve the social mobility of low-income families, economists from the Hamilton Project are proposing a change in the tax code that would eliminate a secondary-earner penalty. Read about it here, along with an explanation and endorsement of the measure from Peter Orszag. On November 1, SNAP funding was cut by $5 billion. A consistent line of attack against food stamps is that free food breeds government dependency. However, a recent research paper shatters this claim. To consider its findings – food stamps relieve hardship and trigger improved long-lasting health and economic outcomes for children – access the report here. Finally, unless Congress acts, on December 31, federally funded emergency unemployment benefits will expire – affecting 1.3 million Americans.



Lunacy.” The reaction of Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute to President Obama’s support for a higher minimum wage at a time when joblessness is near crisis levels.

What drives me as a grandson, a son, a father, as an American is to make sure that every striving, hardworking, optimistic kid in America has the same incredible chance that his country gave me.” President Obama in a speech delivered at the Center for American Progress on December 4, 2013. 

“…the idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough. But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care or a community that views her future as their own -- that should offend all of us. And it should compel us to action. We are a better country than this. President Obama in a speech delivered at the Center for American Progress on December 4, 2013. 

Tired? I’m too busy to be tired.” Edward Shoy, a minimum wage worker in NYC, who works all day and works all night: from 11 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. 

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” Franklin Roosevelt quoted by Arindrajit Dube in Dube’s essay on the need to have a fair minimum wage. 

“What business is it of the government to fund high-quality preschool and child care?  Good business.” Matt Valenti, vice president and general counsel of AntiCancer Inc., a San Diego biotech, arguing in an op-ed that universal preschool is necessary if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. 

"These are no longer jobs being done by teenagers who need extra money. These are jobs being done by adults that can't find any other work." SEIU President Mary Kay Henry on why raising the minimum wage is justified and why the movement to raise the minimum wage is growing. 



EDUCATION PERFORMANCE OF 15 YEAR-OLDS. The Economist relying on data from the OECD, December 3, 2013  



LOW-WAGE WORKERS BY EDUCATION, 1979-2012. Center for Economic and Policy Research, July 2013 






Obama on income inequality: 'I take this personally' 

Obama: income inequality is 'defining challenge of our time' – live 

Inequality is ‘defining issue of our time’, says Obama 

Inequality is ‘the defining issue of our time’ 

The best speech Obama has given on the economy. Ezra Klein 

Is Obama Getting Serious about Inequality? John Cassidy 

Obama focuses agenda on relieving economic inequality. Zachary Goldfarb 

ED. The President on Inequality. The New York Times 

Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility. The White House 



OP ED. The Minimum We Can Do. Arindrajit Dube  

Wal-Mart Holding Canned Food Drive For Its Own Underpaid Employees 

Post-Miller Center poll: American Dream and economic struggles 

No Matter How You Look At It, the Minimum Wage is Much Too Low 

Joined By Business Leaders and Workers, Rep. Miller, Sen. Harkin Unveil Bill to Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.10 

$10 Minimum Wage Proposal Has Growing Support From White House 

POLL. Public Support for raising the minimum wage. Hart Research

POLL. Most Americans for Raising Minimum Wage. Gallup. November 11, 2013 

House Republicans Vote Down Increase In Minimum Wage 

Push for minimum wage hike led by localities, Democrats 

Eight states with the highest minimum wages 

California Legislature approves raising minimum wage to $10 

Plan would raise minimum wage for half of D.C. region to $11.50 by 2016 

Washington city votes to raise minimum wage to $15 

States Moving Beyond U.S. Minimum Wage as Congress Stalls 

Patchwork of Local Wage Laws Fuels Debate Over Raising Federal Minimum 

Higher Calling. New Yorker. Steve Coll 

OP ED. A higher minimum wage is the tonic America needs. Edward Luce  

Black Friday and the Race to the Bottom. George Packer

The Minimum Wage Is Not What It Used To Be 

5 facts about the minimum wage. Pew 

Wage Strikes Planned at Fast-Food Outlets 

Fast Food Strikes Hit 100 Cities Thursday 

Democrats in Congress urge fast-food outlets to boost worker wages 

$15 Wage in Fast Food Stirs Debate on Effects 

ED. The War of the Wages. The Wall Street Journal 

Making Low Wages Livable 

Slow Progress for Fast-Food Workers 

Life on $7.25 an Hour 



Most American Families Make $60,000 Or Less A Year 

Giving Secondary Earners a Tax Break: A Proposal to Help Low- and Middle-Income Families 

Economists propose tax break to ease the burden for struggling two-worker families 

Give Families’ Second Earners a Break. Orszag 

SNAP Benefits Will Be Cut for All Participants in November 2013 

SNAP Cuts Disappear From Network Sunday Show Coverage

Now Is A Horrible Time To Cut Food Stamps, In 1 Depressing Chart 

REPORT. Long Run Impact of Childhood Access to the Safety Net. Hilary W. Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Douglas Almond. NBER Working Paper No. 18535, issued in November 2012 

GOP debunked on food stamps: Everything they say about SNAP is wrong 

Unemployment benefits for 2.1 million workers are set to expire early next year 

Unemployment benefits will soon expire for 1.3 million workers. Where will they go?

Congressional GOP may be willing to let emergency unemployment benefits lapse 

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