By Melissa Josephs
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Minimum-wage jobs are mainly held by women struggling to support families on way too little. Let's guarantee these hard-working breadwinners a living wage. The first in a series of articles by Women Employed on the challenges facing low-wage workers.
The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. If it had kept up with the purchasing power it had in 1968, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that today it would be $10.39 an hour, about $20,000 a year. A recent poll shows that 67 percent of Americans support gradually raising the minimum wage to that level.
Some argue against the minimum wage as a job killer to be avoided in the current prolonged period of high unemployment. But extensive research does not support that argument. Raising wages reduces costly turnover and increases productivity because workers who are paid more stay with their employer longer.
The first minimum wage was passed in 1938, during the Great Depression, as a way to help America's workers and increase consumer purchasing power to stimulate the economy.
It worked then, and it can work today. Raising the minimum wage should be a key strategy for our economic recovery, because more money in the pockets of low-income consumers means more spending on local businesses, which raises profits and revenues and leads to hiring.
Wages paid for hard, important work should at least allow a worker to feed and clothe their families, keep a roof over their heads and pay for transportation and child care.
We can make it happen. There are movements in states around the country to raise the minimum wage. In Illinois, for example, the Raise Illinois coalition is working to increase the minimum wage to $10.65 an hour; and you can take action on its website.
If you live in another state, look for a similar movement in your area and get involved. And call your federal senators and representatives today and urge them to support a higher minimum wage.
Let's make the minimum wage a living wage.
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Melissa Josephs, a longtime activist for fair workplaces, is director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed, a 39-year-old organization that mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America's working women. Women Employed is working to make the minimum wage a living wage in Illinois as part of the Raise Illinois coalition.
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