Minimum recognition for hard work

While Congress bickers, states increase their minimum wages across the country.

The federal minimum wage has stood firm at $5.15 an hour since 1997, while housing, energy costs and inflation have eroded the buying power of that wage. Of the 11 attempts the Senate has made to increase the minimum wage in the years since, each has failed, including one that was botched just this summer.

Today, a person working a 40-hour week at minimum wage has only $10,740 a year to live on. If this person is a single parent with two children, that puts them almost $6,000 below the poverty line. This is unacceptable.

Congress continues to fail the American people on this issue by withholding a guarantee to a living wage for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

In this leadership vacuum, state governments are beginning to take notice of the problem and bring matters into their own hands.

Twenty-three states, including Minnesota, require employers to pay more than the federal requirement of $5.15, and many aren’t stopping there. Six states – Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri and Montana – have initiatives on the Nov. 7 ballot to increase their minimums to $6.85 an hour.

California already will increase its minimum wage to $8 an hour by 2008. While this is still not a livable wage for many, particularly those with dependents, it is a huge step in the right direction.

This issue is also particularly relevant for college students. In addition to the usual expenses of rent and energy, we must also absorb increasing costs of tuition and textbooks. With much of college students’ time taken up by attending class and studying, there are only so many hours in a day available to work, and it’s important that a fair wage is paid to working students.

The American people consistently poll higher than 86 percent in favor of increasing the minimum wage to at least $7.15. If such a policy enjoys widespread support with the public, why can’t Congress get behind it?