Commentary: Raise Minimum Wage and Help the Black Community

A new study argues that raising the stagnant minimum wage could help single mothers of color improve their lives. So why hasn’t Congress acted yet?

Posted: 12/19/2012 05:43 PM EST
Commentary: Raise the Minimum Wage and Help the Black Community

Critics of raising the minimum wage say it would be bad for business, but there’s good reason to believe they’re wrong:

A new study out of the University of Texas at Austin shows just how beneficial raising the minimum wage would be for women of color:

To illustrate the adverse effects of a stagnant minimum wage, the analysis points to Texas, which has the largest number of low-wage ($7.25/hour) workers in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite its national reputation for economic growth, Texas ranks sixth in the number of people living in poverty, and its poverty rate is growing faster than the national average, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

[…]

To rise above the poverty threshold, a single mother raising two children and working full time would need to earn $17.50 to $31.60 an hour, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank for economic research. This amount, known as the living wage, is more than twice the average minimum wage in most communities.

The Texas researchers say that by not increasing the minimum wage, Congress is actually hurting the economy, as low-wage workers have a lot less money to spend and boost the economy. And that’s very true. An increase of just 25 cents could mean an extra $520 annually for the average minimum-wage worker, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Back in June, three congressmen — John Conyers, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Dennis Kucinich — wisely introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour, to $10 an hour. The bill also required that the minimum wage be tied to inflation so that it would increase as the economy called for it. Adjusted for inflation, even $10 an hour would be a lower minimum wage than what Americans were making in 1968. Sadly, the bill has yet to go anywhere, thus hurting the millions of Americans, particularly those of color, it could have helped.

Raising the minimum wage is an issue with bipartisan support. A 2010 poll found that two-thirds of Americans — including a majority of Republicans — support raising the minimum wage to $10. There is widespread public support for a minimum wage increase for good reason, and not just because millions of Americans work in low-wage positions.

Of course, if Congress ever does act and raise the minimum wage again — the last time it did so was in 2006 — some small business owners are going to be forced to pay more in employee wages, and some of them aren’t going to be happy about it. But it’s important to remember that small business owners aren’t the only people whose bottom lines matter. The government should be looking out for low-wage workers, too.

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(Photo: Reuters/John Sommers II /Landov)

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