Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
President Obama's call to raise the minimum wage is a welcome relief.
American workers, not big businesses, have been the biggest losers in a sagging economy and sluggish recovery. Stagnant job growth, coupled with record high employment, has forced many individuals and families to do more with less -- including on the wage front.
The president's proposal would pump more than $18 billion into local economies annually, create much needed tax revenue for cities and states and stabilize families still recovering from the most recent recession.
Across the country, there are 30 million people employed in low-wage jobs that pay less than $9 per hour or $18,000 per year. Among those workers, close to 5 million earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or just below it.
Women, blacks, Latinos and low-skilled workers would benefit from an increase in the federal minimum wage because they are more likely to be employed in lower-wage jobs in the retail or service industries.
The Republican response that raising the federal minimum wage would maim small businesses is wrong and amounts to "chicken little" scare tactics. Of the 20 or so states where the minimum wage is more than the federal rate, none have reported issues with job loss or hiring that can be directly linked to increased wages paid to workers.
We live in a new economic reality. Over the last few decades, there has been a significant decline in the median weekly earnings for individuals with a high school diploma or less, the bulk of the low-wage work force. In 2007, for example, men with a less than a high school diploma earned 28 percent less than they did in 1979. With the loss of manufacturing jobs, lower-wage jobs are a bigger part of our economy than ever before.
We ought to ensure that the wages paid to workers are in keeping with our morality, as well as the economic reality of our times.
C. Nicole Mason is executive director of the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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