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New Book Supports Increase in US Minimum Wage - 2001-10-25


"A full time job should keep a worker out of poverty, not in poverty." That is the contention of a new book entitled "Raise the Floor" which calls for raising the U.S. minimum wage, the government standard that sets a floor on hourly salaries in the United States.

The present minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. Raising it is always a hotly debated topic in Congress, with conservatives arguing a higher wage would hurt small businesses and force some employers to lay off workers.

Liberals, like the authors of this book, counter that, in order for a full time worker to support himself on his wages, the minimum wage needs to be almost $3 higher than it is.

The original minimum wage set up in 1938 was 25 cents an hour, so low that its passage only raised the pay of about 300,000 of the 11 million workers then in the U.S. labor force.

But "Raise the Floor" author Holly Sklar, the director of a Boston research group, says U.S. workers in many different industries today earn the minimum wage. "It's people who work in factory jobs that earn very low wages, people who work as housekeepers in hotels, people who work in the food industry, from picking the food to canning the food. Health care aids. You've got all these health care aids who can't afford health insurance," she said.

The law that created a minimum wage called for raising it to keep up with inflation. But, For Holly Sklar, because raising it takes an act of Congress, the increases have not been consistent and have failed to keep up with inflation.

"Since 1968, you had [U.S.] worker productivity going up more than 70 percent, but in that period average workers wages barely rose [adjusted for inflation] and you had the minimum wage drop, since 1968, 35 percent, adjusting for inflation," said Ms. Sklar.

Marie Wilson, Director of the Ms Foundation for women and another "Raise the Floor" contributor, says hundreds of communities across the United States have been so dissatisfied with the minimum wage they have passed "living wage laws," that set a higher standard for their local workers.

"We're talking about wages that are eight, nine, ten, and more dollars per hour, because they really computed what it cost people to actually live," said Ms. Wilson. "And once people in these communities understood this intellectually and legislators got it, they have passed [living wage laws] like mad. And that should reassure us, because it tells us again that once you explain the problem, people respond."

That is what the authors hope their new book will do: explain the problem in a way that compels people and the U.S. Congress to respond.

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