Raise the Wage Act is long overdue

wages

Nowhere in the entire country can a full-time worker earning the federal or state minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment a fair market rent.

One in nine U.S. workers are paid wages that can leave them in poverty, even when working full time.

Over the last 40 years, wages for the lowest-paid workers have barely budged, while wages for the wealthiest have more than tripled.

Criminally low

In a nation that calls itself the land of opportunity, where we claim as a value an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, our dismally insufficient federal minimum wage is practically a crime. That’s why the National Urban League supports the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, legislation recently introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott.

The bill would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, index future minimum wage increases to median wage growth, and guarantee that all workers are paid at least the full federal minimum wage by phasing out the subminimum wages for tipped workers, youth workers and workers with disabilities.

Had the minimum wage kept pace with worker productivity since the 1940s, it would be just under $22 per hour – more than triple what it is now. Instead, the vast majority of the gains from that increased productivity have gone to the wealthiest.

The average CEO pay is 271 times the average pay of the typical American worker. In 1978, CEO earnings were about 30 times the typical worker’s salary.

The Urban League movement has long advocated for a federally-mandated living wage tied to the rate of inflation. It is a central element of our comprehensive blueprint for eliminating economic disparity, the Main Street Marshall Plan.

A fair living wage raises the living standards of workers and stimulates the economy to benefit the nation as a whole.

In fact, researchers estimate that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage would increase sales by around $2 billion each year. Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would lift wages for 41 million American workers, including 40 percent of all African-American workers. The average age of workers who will benefit from the bill is 36.

No impact

Moderate increases in the minimum wage have little to no impact on employment. A University of California at Berkeley study last year examined the effect of minimum wage increases in six cities and found pay increases for workers and no significant employment reductions. A more extensive study by the London School of Economics examined the impact of 138 separate minimum wage increases implemented between 1979 and 2016, and found no overall reduction in low-wage jobs.

Income inequality in America threatens not just economic stability of our nation, but our democracy itself. Full-time workers shouldn’t live in poverty anywhere, but especially not in the wealthiest nation on earth. The Raise the Wage Act would bring the federal minimum wage in line with economic reality.

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Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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