One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.
Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three—if the work is full-time.
Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
It’s especially bad that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a typical man earns. Women of color are far more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and two-thirds of mothers now are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. Their lower wages mean they will receive less from Social Security, their primary source of retirement income.
Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while about 1.5 million men do.
Pointedly, the report notes:
From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.
But these same 1 percenters are some of those who block efforts at the local and national levels to raise the minimum wage. In fact, research has shown no job loss results from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling.
On the contrary, a minimum wage increase boosts consumer spending and can improve the nation’s weak economy by growing demand through increased purchasing power.
This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on June 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.