Why We Should Raise the Minimum Wage

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—If one hundred professional economists have their way, the minimum wage will be increased from $7.25 to $10.50 an hour, benefitting 45 million U.S. workers and their families. Economists from dozens of universities and research institutes signed on to a petition in support of H.R. 1346 Catching up to 1968 Act of 2013 sponsored by Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). The act indexes the minimum wage to inflation, ensuring that the real value of the minimum wage would no longer deplete in the way that it has over the past decades. The petition explains how a minimum wage employee working full time at the current rate earns $15,080 a year -- 19% below the poverty line for a family of three.

Earlier this year, President Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to at least $9 an hour. The legislation is currently in committee and would need to be passed by both the Senate and the House for the increases to go into effect.

"It's time to raise the federal minimum wage--raise it over time to $10.10 an hour, boost the guaranteed minimum wage rate for tipped workers, which has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991, and index the overall minimum wage to the cost of living," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The economists' petition claims that raising the minimum wage to $10.50 and indexing it to inflation through the Catching Up to 1968 Act of 2013 would be an effective means of improving living standards for low-wage workers and their families and will help stabilize the economy while the costs to other groups in society would be modest and readily absorbed. A boost to $10.50 an hour along with other related measures could benefit the economy overall by promoting greater equality since greater equality means working people have more spending power, which in turn supports greater overall demand in the economy," Grayson said.

The last increase in the federal minimum wage was in 2009 but on January 1, 2013, ten states increased minimum wage. They include

  • Arizona - $7.80
  • Colorado - $7.78
  • Florida - $7.79
  • Missouri - $7.35
  • Montana - $7.80
  • Ohio - $7.85
  • Oregon - $8.95
  • Rhode Island - $7.75
  • Vermont - $8.60
  • Washington - $9.19
  • New York passed an increase to $9 an hour, which goes into effect over 3 years

The petition clarifies three misconceptions about minimum wage:

  • 1. Contrary to the argument that minimum wage increases only affect teenagers working summer jobs, the average age for workers affected by the raise would be 32 years old. In fact, only 9.3% of those affected would be teenagers.
  • 2. Opponents argue that minimum wage increases are tied to unemployment. The weight of evidence from the extensive professional literature has, for decades, consistently found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments, because the increases in overall business costs resulting from a minimum wage increase are modest.
  • 3. Corporate lobbyists connect a moderate minimum wage increase with huge consumer price increases. The act clarifies that the fast-food industry, for example, would only see a 2.7% rise in costs. These cost increases, note the economists, can be paid for through negligible price increases, small productivity gains or more equal distribution of companies' total revenues.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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