Momentum is building to raise the minimum wage. Several states have already taken action -- Connecticut has boosted it to $10.10 by 2017, the Maryland legislature just approved a similar measure, Minnesota lawmakers just reached a deal to hike it to $9.50. A few cities have been more ambitious -- Washington, D.C. and its surrounding counties raised it to $11.50, Seattle is considering $15.00
Senate Democrats will soon introduce legislation raising it nationally to $10.10, from the current $7.25 an hour.
All this is fine as far as it goes. But we need to be more ambitious. We should be raising the federal minimum to $15 an hour.
Here are seven reasons why:
1. Had the minimum wage of 1968 simply stayed even with inflation, it would be more than $10 an hour today. But the typical worker is also about twice as productive as then. Some of those productivity gains should go to workers at the bottom.
2. $10.10 isn't enough to lift all workers and their families out of poverty. Most low-wage workers aren't young teenagers; they're major breadwinners for their families, and many are women. And they and their families need a higher minimum.
3. For this reason, a $10.10 minimum would also still require the rest of us to pay Medicaid, food-stamps, and other programs necessary to get poor families out of poverty -- thereby indirectly subsidizing employers who refuse to pay more. Bloomberg View describes McDonald's and Walmart as "America's biggest welfare queens" because their employees receive so much public assistance. (Some, like McDonalds, even advise their employees to use public programs because their pay is so low.)
4. A $15/hour minimum won't result in major job losses because it would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs. (When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history.)
5. A $15/hour minimum is unlikely to result in higher prices because most businesses directly affected by it are in intense competition for consumers, and will take the raise out of profits rather than raise their prices. But because the higher minimum will also attract more workers into the job market, employers will have more choice of whom to hire, and thereby have more reliable employees -- resulting in lower turnover costs and higher productivity.
6. Since Republicans will push Democrats to go even lower than $10.10, it's doubly important to be clear about what's right in the first place. Democrats should be going for a higher minimum rather than listening to Republican demands for a smaller one.
7. At a time in our history when 95 percent of all economic gains are going to the top 1 percent, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour isn't just smart economics and good politics. It's also the morally right thing to do.
Call your senators and members of Congress today to tell them $15 an hour is the least American workers deserve. You can reach them at 202-224-3121.
ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix Instant Watch. Watch the trailer below:
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