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Child Watch® Column: "Make Hard Work Pay — Again"

Release Date: March 14, 2014

Marian Wright Edelman

One of our country’s most cherished values is the idea that if you work hard you can get ahead, be part of the middle class, raise a family comfortably, and ensure your children will do better than you did. But this is a hollow promise to countless families today. The sad truth is you can work full time in America and not be able to meet your family’s basic needs. A parent working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour earns $15,080 a year before taxes. That’s $4,700 below the poverty level for a parent with two children. Two-thirds of the 16.1 million poor children in America live with an adult who works, and 30 percent live with an adult who works full time year-round.

As CDF’s recently released The State of America’s Children 2014 report highlights, in no state can a parent working full time at the minimum wage afford a fair-market rent two-bedroom apartment and have enough left over to pay for food, utilities, and other necessities. Child care costs alone can eat up more than half of a parent’s paycheck: the average cost of center-based child care for an infant is $9,500 a year. Most experts agree that families need to earn twice the poverty level to be able to begin to provide adequately for their children.

Today we have an opportunity to begin to realign our values by enacting the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, the first increase since 2009, and raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time since 1991. The current federal minimum wage is worth 32 percent less in inflation-adjusted terms than at its peak in 1968. If it had grown at the same rate as wages for a typical worker in America since 1968 it would already be $10.65 an hour. But if it had grown at the same rate as productivity of the economy during that period it would be $18.30 today. So increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would restore the minimum wage closer to what it would have been if it had kept up with average wages but still leave it far below what it should be, given productivity and economic growth since the late 1960s.

Nationwide, increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would increase a full-time worker’s salary to $21,008 and put $31 billion additional dollars in the pockets of as many as 24.5 million low-wage workers according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Congress’ official budget arbiter. It would lift 900,000 people above the official poverty threshold. Nearly 90 percent of those benefiting would be 20 years or older and over half would be working full time. According to the Economic Policy Institute those affected by the minimum wage increase earn on average half of their family’s total income. The Economic Policy Institute has also found more than a quarter of those benefiting would be parents.

Most importantly, the increase to $10.10 an hour would improve the lives of an estimated 14 million children — nearly one in five children in America — by helping their parents put nutritious food on the table, keep a roof over their families’ heads, and make sure their children get the health care they need to ensure they can develop to their full potential. And an increase in the minimum wage would not cost the government anything — as the CBO acknowledged, it might even save money in the short term as people with increased incomes need fewer government benefits and pay more in taxes.

The increase also would help spur the economy. Recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that raising the minimum wage to $10 could increase U.S. gross domestic product by up to 0.3 percentage points in the short term. Some resist a minimum wage increase because of fears it would lead to job losses, but after extensive research the latest consensus in the field is that this is not the case. This is why more than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Laureates, have endorsed the increase to $10.10, saying in a joint letter to President Obama and congressional leaders: “In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of the evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effects on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weaknesses in the labor market.” And even if you don’t believe the newest research is the most valid, and look instead at all the research combined, as the Congressional Budget Office conservatively did in its February 18th report, CBO’s best estimate was that this change would reduce employment by 0.3 percent. Should we really deny a certain income boost to 24.5 million workers to spare a much smaller number uncertain job loss? Of course not. If Congress is worried about uncertain job losses from a minimum wage increase, they could offset them through complementary policies like changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which boosts employment among low- and mid-income earners, or private or public sector jobs programs.

Increasing the minimum wage would give an immediate pay raise to millions of workers in America who are still waiting for the country’s economic recovery to reach them. No one in rich America should be working full time and be forced to live in poverty. That’s why nearly three-quarters of Americans support raising the minimum wage, including a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. There is no reason for Congress to continue to deny hard-working Americans, many of them parents, a long overdue and needed pay raise. It’s long past time to begin to make work pay again.


Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Submitted by Jake Streeter at: March 31, 2014
Or the most part, I am in agreement with this article. The state of our minimum wage in this country is a major problem. The problem with it is that it has not kept up with inflation. That being included, the minimum wage necessary to live increases annually along with the prices of everything else. If an individual’s wage does not increase to at least keep up with the rate of inflation, it is essentially like getting a 3% annual decrease in income. There needs to be a program in place that can effectively calculate what the current minimum income would be. Second, this program needs to implement a policy that will insure that will insure that this amount always adequately reflects the rise in living expenses caused by inflation. I also believe that there is another side to this coin that often goes unaddressed. There are millions of jobs that are not minimum wage jobs that go unfilled annually. The reason for this is that there is an alleged lack of skilled workers in the U.S. to fill all of these positions. There is a pool of people who would love to have these positions but currently do not possess the skills to obtain them. We need to direct equally as much, if not more attention to that of secondary education and trade schools. Debt forgiveness needs to be extended to all who graduate from college and begin work in their field of study. There will always be low paying jobs. In a capitalistic society, that will never change. But I believe that most people who work low paying jobs only accept them because they know they do not qualify for the higher paying ones. Nor do they have the means of gaining the skills and education necessary to qualify for them. I know that I do not speak for everyone. But, as an individual who is currently beneath the poverty level, I wouldn’t want a minimum wage paying position even if they doubled it. Minimum wage was never designed to do more than allow you to survive. In the land of “opportunity”, I think that it would be disgraceful to all those who sacrificed on my behalf if I did not do more with my life than that. I want to thrive. I will never be content with the bottom as long as I know that there is a top. I just no not have it in me to settle for less than what has been afforded to others. To turn a field slave into a house slave does not negate the fact that they are a slave. In that same notion, to raise the bottom rung on the economic ladder does not change the fact that it is still on the bottom. I want to know what it feels like to be on the top!

Submitted by mjs at: March 16, 2014
$10.10 an hour may be short-sighted...remember 1970 was the last time the minimum wage was raised. Needs to be tied to the cost of living. Remember the days when it was possible for one parent to provide the needs for a whole family?

Submitted by Sad Eyes at: March 16, 2014
They are able to take care of their families and the American people want to do the same. Why do have high salaries when the people do not. WE want the same for our families as they have. WE want nice cars, a nice house, clothes, food and for our children to have the same opportunities as they have. Let them go into the world and work or with out work with their families and maybe they will understand.

Submitted by mskarannla at: March 15, 2014
This would also put me out of business and should be taken on a state to state basis, not on a federal level. The federal government needs to take care of other business and allow the states to make a fair minimum wage based on each states economic standards.

Submitted by Rob at: March 14, 2014
I completely disagree increasing the minimum wage will put small businesses, the backbone of America out of business because they will have to raise rates on customers and/or cut staff . Minimum wage is for low skilled uneducated employees. Hike their education and then they will get a raise by the employer bc they will be able to give more to the job.

Submitted by Lynn at: March 14, 2014
I have known people on disability who were working all the hours they could stand to work--and still just barely making ends meet, even when they didn't have any children to support. I have known disabled people--who didn't know each other well--living three to a studio apartment, and skipping meals, because that was the only way they could afford rent. I knew a disabled woman whose husband lost custody of his son to his ex-wife and her new, sexually abusive husband, because the abusive stepfather was deemed more "fit" to parent than the kind, but disabled stepmother. Raising the minimum wage to livable levels would help people on disability to survive with dignity, and to better care for any children in the picture.

Submitted by gchernetz at: March 14, 2014
Corporations have been undermining the middle class from the beginning of time since unions started. Now they use the tea party to facilitate their message. How stupid the tea party is to undermine workers rights and their own families. A ship of fools on a clear blue sea!!!

Submitted by janet at: March 14, 2014
Being some one only making$9.25 an hour can imagine what a family on minimum wage does to make ends meet. However I know they have an easier time accessing SNAP, childcare, health and housing benefits. My point is though raising the wage scares me to death. Unless costs are maintained at current levels or lowered the concept of raising wages is doomed to fail. Pricing will go up with wages leaving people in same situation and probably a bigger sect of the population.

Submitted by Lisa at: March 14, 2014
It's is shameful that FT work does not provide a living wage. And it costs the taxpayer who indirectly subsidizes business profits. This has to end.