A New York Times study has shown that if the minimum wage had risen at the same rate as that of the pay of the top 1% of earners, it would stand at $22.62 per-hour, a staggering 212% higher than it is now.
The federal minimum wage is currently set at $7.25 per-hour. It has remained below a poverty-level wage since 1982. This has contributed to the explosion in income inequality seen in America in the past few decades. Minimum wage jobs tend to be short-term, with few if any benefits, and those who hold those jobs are extremely easy to let go (in what we are enjoined by the ruling classes to embrace as “labor market flexibility”).
A 212% increase in the minimum wage may sound exorbitant, but according to the Times’s study:
Worker productivity has more than doubled since 1968, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity gains it would have been $21.72 last year. From 2000 to 2012 alone workers boosted their productivity by 25 percent yet saw their earnings fall rather than rise, leading some economists to label the early 21st century a lost decade for American workers.
The study also revealed the demographic breakdown of those employed in minimum wage jobs. Less than 25% of them are teenagers, and 4 in 10 of them are over the age of 30. Perhaps the most interesting revelation is that since people of color are over-represented in the minimum wage workforce, a modest rise in the minimum wage to just $10.10 per-hour would lift a staggering 3.5 million people of color out of poverty. It just so happens that an increase to $10.10 per-hour received the public backing of President Obama last month.
American workers are working harder and longer but not seeing any reward for their titanic effort. This year has seen a wave of strikes among low-paid workers, particularly in the service and retail sector. Due to the intransigence of the Republican-controlled House over the issue, campaigners have turned their attention to individual states where they have seen some success. States such as Washington and New Jersey have recently approved significant increases in their minimum wage, and activists are lobbying lawmakers in a number of other states.
h/t: Think Progress