Thursday, May 24, 2007

Two Cheers For the Minimum Wage Increase

The House has just voted overwhelmingly to raise the federal minimum wage standard (the lowest level acceptable) from $5.15 to $7.25. While it is good that the Republicans are now out of power and the prattling "free market economists" are not around muttering about "sub-minimum wages" for youth and others and in general denouncing the very concept of a minimum wage as counterproductive to "economic growth," this increase raises the minimum wage to about half of what a really living minimum wage would be in the U.S. (around $15.00 a hour, given the cost of utilities and food throughout the country, housing in major regions, and the crippling consumer debt that afflicts much of the wage and salary workers of the country).

We should remember that minimum wages for frozen for twelve years under Reagan and Bush I. They rose modestly in the first half of the Clinton administration and were then frozen again after 1997--meaning that minimum wages have been frozen for twenty-two of the last twenty-six years.

Low minimum wages have facilitated the export of industry from the industrial states to the relatively cheap labor anti-union shop states of the country and encouraged the flight of capital out of the U.S. to even cheaper labor.

Interestingly enough, real wages and real living standards showed modest but significant advances in the late 1990s when minimum wages were raised, not during the period under Reagan and Bush I, before of the period under Bush II after when they were frozen.

David Obey, a leading House Democrat, said after the vote today that minimum wages were "unconscionably frozen" for a decade. He might have added that they remain unconscionably low even with the increase. The increase should be seen as a modest beginning. American Labor still has a great deal of catching up to

--Norman Markowitz

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