On Wednesday, Congress passed a bill 315-116 which would increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 in just over a two-year time frame. This, of course, assumes that the U.S. Senate can pass a similar bill that ultimately President Bush will not veto (or can muster a 2/3 vote to overturn a likely veto).
That said, in the off chance that such a bill does become law, it would be the first federal wage increase since 1997 for America’s working poor, a worker constituency composed of largely youth, single parents and people of color.
Presently, various “pro-business” lobbying groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business and others are vehemently fighting any such raise — or at the very least, additional measures added to the final legislation to “sweeten the pot” for business owners.
One question comes to mind: If it will take additional tax cuts and other such largesse to appease “pro-business” challengers of this bill, what perks will our lowest-paid American workers get for having to toil and wait for 9 years to get a modest pay bump (over an additional two years) that will still leave a family of four with one full-time worker at minimum wage under the poverty line?
Ultimately, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, our public servants and business leaders what responsibility must we take as a nation to ensure that no legitimate business be compelled to base its economic sustainability on the necessary exploitation of its employees?
And if a family of four with two minimum wage earners can barely make ends meet, isn’t the question behind this question really, “When will a living wage be the socially responsible minimum threshold for today’s working poor?”
If this is the wealthiest, most industrious, and in many patriots’ estimation the “best” country in the world, why does a substantive national dialogue on, let alone legislation supporting, the living wage seem more untenable than peace in the Middle East?