Momentum builds toward increasing the minimum wage
A raise in the federal minimum wage is looking more and more likely, with Democrats soon to become the congressional majority and President Bush reluctantly signing on to their plan.
The minimum wage has been $5.15 an hour since 1997. According to the government’s own inflation calculator at www.bls.gov, that’s equivalent to $6.47 in 2006. Another common yardstick is to make the minimum wage about half the average hourly wage in the United States, which would be about $8.30, according to Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL-CIO.
By either of those measures, the Democrats’ plan to raise the minimum to $7.25, phased in over two years, seems reasonable. This would directly benefit about 5.6 million workers who make less than $7.25 and indirectly benefit millions more through a ripple effect.
Opponents will tell you that it also may cost some unskilled workers jobs and hours and that prices may rise as employers try to contain their costs. These dangers arise every time the minimum goes up, but the nation long ago accepted the notion that a minimum wage is a just and necessary protection for workers. Once that decision was made, cost-of-living adjustments became necessary to make it meaningful.
President Bush wants to cushion the impact on small businesses by giving them tax breaks. His specific proposals along these lines will deserve consideration, but the fact is that in the past 10 years the federal government has handed out several business tax breaks while the minimum wage stagnated. Debate about tax breaks should not cause further delay in raising the minimum wage.