Last week, Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin proposed raising the minimum wage, just three weeks after President Obama called for increasing it to $9 an hour in his State of the Union address. Republicans are against the idea. “I support people making more than nine dollars. I want people to make as much as they can,” Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio told CBS News. “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is against raising the minimum wage because he believes it would cost Hispanics jobs.
These lawmakers just don’t get it. Raising the federal minimum wage is overdue. It would benefit Latinos and other Americans, and give our economy a boost. Increasing the minimum wage is good policy, good strategy – and the right thing to do.
On the current minimum wage of $7.25, a person who works 40 hours a week with no vacation will earn $15,080 a year — just a few thousand dollars above the poverty line. Simple math and common sense tell us that it would be extremely difficult to live on this wage, so it’s time to raise it.
Over nearly forty years, the minimum wage has only increased by about five dollars. Both Senator Harkin and President Obama also propose adding automatic cost-of-living increases to the minimum wage. The government does this with Social Security, to shield seniors from inflation; working people deserve the same protection.
A higher minimum wage would benefit Latinos. One in five Hispanics earns minimum wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 23 percent of Latinos live in poverty. Raising the minimum wage would help Latinos improve their economic situation, especially since many Hispanics live in urban areas where costs of living are above the national average. In addition, a higher minimum wage would allow American workers to keep pace with their global counterparts. Right now, the U.S. lags behind most major industrial nations in our minimum wage.
Increasing the minimum wage makes good economic sense. It would mean more money in people’s pockets, which translates into more money spent on goods and services. A 2011 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that a dollar increase in the minimum wage results, on average, in households spending an additional $2,800 the following year. And contrary to what Senator Cruz believes, increasing the minimum wage would not cost jobs. The Center for Economic Policy and Research has found that increases in the minimum wage do not impact employment.
Strategically, it would make sense for Republicans to support a minimum wage hike. It is a way to jump-start the economy that doesn’t involve raising taxes. It is popular with the public. A Gallup poll last week found that 71 percent of Americans support Obama’s proposal to raise it to $9 an hour. Among Latinos, a whopping 85 percent support increasing the minimum wage. What’s more, if we increase the minimum wage, it likely means fewer people on welfare, food stamps, and other government programs. Isn’t that what conservatives want?
There is also a moral argument for a higher minimum wage. Consider that in 2012, corporate profits hit a record high, while worker income hit a record low. Or that in 2010, the wealthiest one percent of Americans captured 93 percent of all economic growth. Such income inequality is as unjust as it is unacceptable. At the very least, everyone should be able to support themselves through their own work, even those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
Raising the minimum wage would be good for Latinos as well as other Americans. It could well speed our economic recovery. And it is truly is the minimum we can do for millions of productive, deserving workers.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.