America goes to the polls in less than 3 weeks, there's a lot at stake for the majority of voters -- namely women. Unfortunately women also make up another majority -- those working for our pathetic $7.25 an hour minimum wage. We've all heard the numbers on the gender pay gap -- women make about 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for full time year round work. And one of the biggest factors in the pay gap is the low minimum wage.
That's because adult women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers. Even so, in an election year when candidates know female voters can make them or break them, too many are saying these women don't deserve a raise.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently said a raise would be a "job killer" -- a theory frequently harped on by his fellow conservatives. They say employers will lay off some workers to pay for the increase. But it just ain't so. In the 13 states that raised their minimums this year, employment has actually gone up.
Naysayers also like to claim that companies will move to lower wage states. Wrong again. The New York Times studied businesses on either side of the Washington/Idaho border when Washington's minimum wage was nearly $3 higher than Idaho's. And guess what? Firms in Washington did not move across the state line. They were going strong, maybe because higher paid workers had more money to spend.
Workers who get tips -- so-called "sub-minimum" wage workers -- are the worst off of all. And no surprise, they're mostly women too. According to the Economic Policy Institute, two-thirds of tipped workers are female, and roughly 70 percent of the food servers and bartenders are women.
Yet employers like Darden Restaurants ,the largest full-service restaurant company in the world and owner of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Yard House, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, and Eddie V's refuses to raise wages for these workers above the mandated $2.13 an hour. Recent research by U.C. Davis, says it would cost just 10 cents per $5 in sales over a five year phase-in to raise wages for all Darden employees to $15 per hour. Dishes like Olive Garden's popular Tortellini al Forno would increase by a exactly one thin dime if all of the costs were passed on to the customer. But why should customers pick up the tab? Why not take it out of CEO mega-salaries and bonuses, or share the cost with the investor class in the form of slightly lower cash dividends (Darden made $286.2 million in profits last year).
One more thing -- the same candidates that don't want a higher minimum wage also want to cut safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps. Supports made necessary because workers can't earn enough to live on, even with two jobs paying $7.25 an hour.
Public polls show that close to 70 percent of Americans favor raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. But Republicans in the Senate refused to vote on it earlier this year, and you can bet it won't come up at all if they take the majority away from the Democrats. So any action is likely to be at the state level -- meaning pay attention to those local candidates. They're the ones most likely to hold the purse strings for the next two years.
Listen to the 2 minute radio commentary here: