The Human Right of a Fair Minimum Wage

"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice. ~Nelson Mandela

As the world continues to reflect on the life, work and legacy of Nelson Mandela, it's fitting to remember one of his greatest causes: eradicating economic inequality and bestowing on all people the fundamental human right to live a life of dignity.

On this International Human Rights Day, we must reaffirm the urgency in addressing the injustice against workers across the globe who are denied this right and face persistent barriers to economic opportunity and mobility.

In every corner of the globe, children, the working class and a growing segment of the middle class are experiencing the pains of poverty. One main culprit is stagnant wages and the fact that workers' pay no longer rises with their productivity and hard work. And if we, as a global society, fail to raise the wage floor, we put the economic future of generations, countries and the international community at risk.

The NAACP believes that every worker deserves a livable wage, ensuring an existence worthy of human dignity for the labor and their family. The divide between rich and poor in this country has grown astronomically over the last four decades. Today a CEO of a major U.S. company earns about 273 times more than the average worker, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. The earnings ratio between CEO and worker was about 20 to 1 in 1965. And according to a study by the Alliance for a Just Society, there is a fundamental shift in our economy to low wage non-sustaining jobs. We have to do better.

At $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage in the U.S. is lower than that of many other developed countries, when calculated as a percentage of the country's median wage or when adjusted for currencies' different levels of purchasing power, according to data from the International Labor Organization and OECD. The world's highest minimum wage is paid in Australia, where workers are paid at least 15.96 Australian dollars, or $16.91, an hour.

Calls to raise the minimum wage in the U.S. reached a fevered pitch last week, as fast food and retails workers in 100 cities across the country went on strike. Workers' demand for hourly wages is a necessary step to creating pathways out of poverty and building economic security.

The momentum is growing. States and municipalities across the country are leading a localized push to raise the minimum wage. NAACP units have been in involved in these efforts from Washington State to New Jersey. Just last week, lawmakers in the District of Columbia voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by 2016. They understand that a livable wage ensures the possibility of building an inclusive middle class economy.

It is time fulfill the social contract, realize Mandela's dream, and advance a society that is economically just and fair for all. We cannot succeed in this country or anywhere else in the world when a shrinking few do very well and a growing majority can barely make it. We have to do better, and raising the minimum wage to a livable wage is a step in the right direction.