It’s Time For Congress To Raise Minimum Wage
It’s been more than four years since Congress last raised the federal minimum wage. Hard-working families are doing all they can to make ends meet during the worst economy of our lifetime-but through no fault of their own-feel like they are just slipping further behind.
When adjusted for inflation-the federal minimum wage of $7.25 today is much lower than its peak in 1968. Too many working poor families are below the poverty line, which not only holds these families back, but also holds back our local economy from its full potential growth.
New York City is home to three of the nation’s top 10 areas with the highest cost of living, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Queens ranked seventh in the country. For Queens residents, it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet with the rising cost of groceries, rent, transportation, and basic necessities.
Last year, New York State passed legislation increasing the wage to $9 an hour by 2015. It’s no coincidence that of the 10 states with the lowest wage gaps, seven have set a minimum wage higher than the federal rate.
Now, it is time for Congress to follow New York’s lead and take action. It is simply unacceptable that a single parent working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to support a family, earns just $290 a week. That’s $15,000 a year-without any time off. That salary is $3,000 below the poverty line for a family of three in New York.
We need an economy that rewards hard work. Raising the federal minimum wage would give working men, women and families the power to raise themselves into the middle class-and benefit the entire economy through stronger consumer confidence and more customers for local small businesses.
In fact, increasing wages to $10.10 an hour would boost incomes for millions of American workers, and generate billions in new economic growth, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
And let’s be clear, this is not just about teenagers working part-time summer jobs.
– Close to 90 percent of the lowest wage earners who would see their paychecks increase by raising the minimum wage are over the age of 20.
– Sixty-two percent of minimum wage earners nationwide are women, who also happen to be a growing percentage of family breadwinners.
– Nearly one-third of all single parents in America would see an increase in pay by raising the minimum wage.
– Raising the minimum wage would help more than 15 million women in America.
Last year, I stood with State Sen. Jose Peralta, Make the Road New York, and Queens businesses in Jackson Heights pushing for federal legislation to help millions of workers move from the working poor into the middle class with more money in their pockets being spent in our local economy.
This week, the U.S. Senate is expected to finally vote on legislation raising the wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years and indexing it to inflation moving forward to allow the rate to keep up with rising costs of living.
The bill has broad support from business leaders-including the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Alliance, and employers like Costco-because they know that strong wages lead to a stronger workforce, higher productivity, and a growing business.
This common-sense measure is long overdue. Boosting wages would not only lift working poor families above the poverty line and onto stable ground, it can also drive economic activity, boost Queens businesses and strengthen local economies.
Editor’s note: Gillibrand is the junior senator representing New York State.