A group of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed this week a bill that would raise the nation’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 per hour, which they say will help consumer purchasing power catch up to the rate of inflation since the late 1960s.
It’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), is even calling the bill “The Catching Up to 1968 Act.” Jackson explained in prepared text that it “may sound like a hefty wage increase but it doesn’t fully equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968 – which today would be closer to $11 per hour. The bill is really only allowing American workers a degree of ‘catch-up.'”
He’s not wrong about that, either: Had lawmakers kept the minimum wage pinned to the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, 1968’s minimum wage of $1.60 per hour would in fact be worth $10.58 per hour in 2012.
Congress last raised the minimum wage in 2007, moving it from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over the course of the following two years. Jackson claimed that move provided “an additional $1.6 billion annually in increased wages,” and called upon President Barack Obama to support another increase.
“A $10 minimum wage, after years of windfall price increases and executive compensation windfalls at labor’s expense, would annually pump tens of billions of dollars into greater consumer (or aggregate) demand by low-income families in this depressed economy,” he said.
“Research has shown no job loss resulting from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling,” Jackson concluded. “On the contrary, to fix the underlying weakness of our economy, we must boost aggregate demand and increase the purchasing power of millions of low-wage workers—and one proven and effective way of doing that is to raise the federal minimum wage.”
The federal minimum wage serves as a floor and some states have passed laws requiring even better pay for workers. Washington state in particular has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.04 per hour. Some states, like Florida, are actively searching for ways to cut minimum wages, like slashing hourly wage requirements for restaurant waiters or bartenders, whose income is derived almost entirely from tips.
The House, currently controlled by Republicans, is not likely to pass Jackson’s bill or even bring it up for a vote. Most Republicans believe a minimum wage is not necessary and may even harm poor and lower-skill workers by creating an artificial scarcity in the labor market.
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