Thirty million Americans who work full time are living in poverty. The federal minimum wage in the United States is $5.15 an hour and has not been raised in almost 10 years.
Someone working full time at minimum wage earns $10,712 a year—that's $8,000 less than what the government defines as poverty.
Why should you care? These are the very people we rely on every day. They are the teachers' aides in your child's classroom. They are caring for your aging parents in the nursing home. They make sure your hotel rooms, your offices and your schools are clean. They are security guards keeping buildings safe. They are paramedics who are there in your most desperate hour.
RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE IS A MATTER OF FAIRNESS. The number of people in poverty has increased by 4.3 million since 2001, the year that President Bush took office. Members of Congress have raised their own pay $31,000 over the past ten years, but have yet to raise the minimum wage a single cent over the same period. Nearly 36 million people live in poverty, including 13 million children. Among full-time, year-round workers, poverty has doubled since the late 1970s?from about 1.3 million workers then to more than 2.6 million workers today. An unacceptably low minimum wage is a key reason there are millions of working poor.
MINIMUM WAGE EARNERS ARE NOT TEENAGERS IN AFTER-SCHOOL JOBS. Approximately 7.3 million workers currently are earning the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour. Adults are the majority, 72%, of these workers, 61% of minimum-wage workers are women. More than a third of those working at minimum wage care for children under the age of 18, with more than 700,000 of them single mothers.
ACTION IS NEEDED NOW. The minimum wage is not indexed for inflation. Congress is responsible for adjusting the minimum wage to keep up with inflationary changes in value. As Congress fails to act, the minimum wage continues to lose purchasing power for its recipients. The inflation-adjusted worth of the current federal minimum wage was 26% lower in 2004 than its 1979 counterpart. If the minimum wage in 1979 were indexed for inflation, it would be $6.92 in 2004 dollars and we should want no less for our workers. It is a travesty that a full-time worker at minimum wage earns $10,712, more than $5,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
IT'S TIME FOR THE FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE TO CATCH UP. There are 17 states and an additional 39 cities or counties in other states where the minimum wage is higher than the federal level. It's time the federal minimum wage started to keep up with the times.
NOW Action List
John Edwards' One America Committee
Center for American Progress