No Happy Anniversary for Minimum Wage Workers July 24 - With value lower than 1956, coalition calls for raise

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July 24 is the anniversary of last year’s raise in the federal minimum wage and no new increases are scheduled. The minimum wage is so low today at $7.25 an hour, says the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, that it’s lower than the minimum wage of 1956. We need to boost the floor under workers to boost our economy.

“The minimum wage sets the wage floor. The fall in worker buying power is a big reason we're in the worst economic crisis since the Depression and a big reason we’re having so much trouble getting out of it," said Let Justice Roll Director Holly Sklar.

July 24 is the anniversary of last year’s raise in the federal minimum wage and no new increases are scheduled. The minimum wage is so low today at $7.25 an hour, says the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, that it’s lower than the minimum wage of 1956, which was $8.02 adjusted for inflation. 1956 is 54 years ago.

The minimum wage sets the wage floor, affecting workers up the ladder. Today, four out of six occupations employing the largest number of workers nationwide -- including retail salespersons, cashiers and food preparation and serving workers -- have a median wage that is lower than the minimum wage of 1968, adjusted for inflation (half make less than the median, half make more). It would take $10 to match the buying power of the minimum wage at its peak in 1968.

"The minimum wage was enacted during the Great Depression to put a floor under workers' wages and increase buying power to boost business and economic recovery," said Let Justice Roll Director Holly Sklar, author of Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us. “The fall in worker buying power is a big reason we're in the worst economic crisis since the Depression and a big reason we’re having so much trouble getting out of it.”

Sow True Seed is a family-owned company serving home gardeners and market growers, based in Asheville, NC. Sow True Seed President Carol Koury said, "Our company is committed to the expansion of vibrant, local, sustainable economies. It would be hypocritical for us to pay less than a living wage to those in our company who make it possible to have a company at all. Sustainability includes the ability of working people to be paid enough to sustain a fair and viable lifestyle. We’re proud to be part of the Just Economics North Carolina employer living wage program. Paying our employees a living wage comes back in myriad ways to nurture the company. Raising the national minimum wage to a living wage would nurture our economy and our country."

"Every day, our food banks and homeless shelters see more people with paychecks too low to cover even basic necessities,” said Rev. Steve Copley, chair of the Let Justice Roll Board. “It’s immoral to pay people poverty wages. It’s also bad economics. Here in Arkansas and around the country, businesses aren’t hiring because they don’t have enough customers and workers aren’t buying because they don’t have the money. Living wages are good ethics and good economics."

"The minimum wage means a lot to me,” said Jeremy Negron, a restaurant worker and father in Miami, Fla. “I depend on it every day, every hour – it all counts. The paycheck comes in and goes out. Every penny goes somewhere. With the minimum wage not going up this year, it means my paycheck buys even less than before. Now I have more tough choices to make that will affect my whole family. Restaurant workers do some of the hardest, most underappreciated jobs in our nation. It's time we were guaranteed fair compensation.”

Negron is a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, which currently has chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Michigan, New Orleans, New York and Washington, DC. Jose Oliva, ROC United Policy Director, says “Restaurant servers and other tipped workers face a double challenge. The minimum wage is too low, and the minimum base pay for tipped workers is even lower. It’s been frozen at $2.13 since 1991. We want Congress to pass the Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services "WAGES" Act (H.R. 2570). The bill would increase tipped workers' base pay to $3.75 immediately and later index the rate to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage.”

Marilyn Winn of Atlanta, GA, said, “As a minimum wage worker, I can tell you that families suffer when parents earn just $7.25 an hour. With the cost of food, medicine and utilities constantly rising, minimum wage workers keep falling farther behind.” Winn said, “From childhood, all I’ve ever known is the minimum wage. My mother worked two jobs while I was growing up. At 77 years old, she is still working. She has never rested and never earned enough.”

“For the child care worker who watches your toddler and the waitress at your local diner, the minimum wage plays a big role in setting their pay scales,” said Rev. Stephanie Coble Hankins, a faith-based organizer for the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition, a longtime Let Justice Roll member. “As an ordained Presbyterian minister, I think of few causes that the faith community should be more interested in than ensuring that the working poor in our own neighborhoods earn enough money to support their families.”

Let Justice Roll is calling for minimum wage increases to make up the ground lost in minimum wage buying power since 1968 and bring us closer to the "minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers" promised in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Income has been redistributed from the bottom and middle to the top,” said Holly Sklar. “The share of national income going to the richest 1 percent has more than doubled since 1968. We can’t build a healthy economy with the greatest income inequality since 1928 and a minimum wage lower in value than 1956. We have to stop rewarding bankers for gambling and return to rewarding workers for rising productivity. A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.”

Critics oppose minimum wage increases in good times and bad, claiming they will increase unemployment. Extensive research, summarized in the Let Justice Roll report, “Raising the Minimum Wage in Hard Times,” to be updated July 24 at http://www.letjusticeroll.org, shows that increasing minimum wage does not increase unemployment. This research includes a new study analyzing minimum wage and teen unemployment published in June by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley.

With more than 100 member organizations, the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign (http://www.letjusticeroll.org) is the leading faith, community, labor, business coalition committed to raising the minimum wage to a living wage at the state and federal level.

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