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Minimum wage needs to increase

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Working for minimum wage just doesn't pay any more. Since 1997, the federal minimum wage has remained at $5.15. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Missouri is one of 25 states whose minimum wage mirrors that of the federal minimum wage. Twenty-one states have instituted a minimum wage that is above $5.15, ranging from $5.70 in Wisconsin to $7.63 in Washington state.

It's easy for those of us who haven't worked for minimum wage since high school to forget that a quarter of Americans are attempting to support themselves on $5.15 an hour. Because of inflation, that $5.15 an hour is worth only $4 an hour. Based on a 40-hour work week, a minimum wage worker will earn $10,700 annually, which is about $6,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of three. In our opinion, that is a crime.

We also are disgusted with the fact that for the last nine years Congress has failed to pass legislation that would raise the minimum raise, but each year our elected legislators have managed to approve a pay raise for themselves. This year, Congress raised its annual salary to $165,200 a year. This is the eighth year in a row Congress has approved a pay raise for itself. According to lawmakers, seven of the eight salary boosts were "cost-of-living adjustments." It's nice they could take care of themselves and adjust their wages to inflation but fail to do the same for common Americans who make only $10,700 a year. If I were a member of Congress, I'd be absolutely ashamed of myself. If you're not going to approve a minimum wage increase then for God's sake don't give yourself a raise, especially when your salary already places you among the nation's elite wage earners.

Jared Bernstein, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, calls the dichotomy "bold-face class warfare" and based on the numbers alone, we'd agree with his assessment.

According to an analysis of federal minimum wage rates from 1955 to present, the value of the minimum wage is at an all-time low. The current $5.15 rate is worth only $4.04, and in 1955, the wage of 75 cents an hour would equate to $4.39 today. Based on these facts, provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, it's time the minimum wage issue was addressed.

Missouri is one of six states where efforts are being made to place a minimum wage increase on the November ballot through a citizens initiative. Missouri's proposal would raise the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour, and the hourly wage would be increased yearly based on inflation. The minimum wage issue is one that will surely rear its head during election time. We would like to see our elected Congressman do the right thing and fight for an increase during the next legislative session. Where a candidate stands on this issue will certainly influence our vote.

It's high time Congress stops taking care of itself and starts championing issues aimed at helping the average American citizen. People who work 40 hours a week should be able to live above poverty level and provide for themselves and their families. An increase in the federal minimum wage is long overdue.