Friday, August 04, 2006

Playing politics with the lives of the working poor

If you haven't seen the news, the latest attempt to raise the federal minimum wage was defeated in the Senate today. In a strange twist it was actually the Democrats who voted down the proposal. This is because the Republicans tried to link the increase to a further reduction in the estate tax that would have benefited a small group of millionaires.

Proponents of "estate tax reform" tout it as an issue popular with voters, but this is because of the propaganda they've spread through the mainstream media that portrays it as a "death tax" and confuses the public into believing that it affects them rather than the very rich. Look at the detail of what was proposed: by 2015 the amount of an estate exempt from taxation would have increased to $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple.

So the only way that the Republicans would agree to a minimum wage increase that would help out millions of American workers struggling to get by in the face of spiraling costs for energy, healthcare and other essential services, was to combine it with a handout for the rich.

Here's the story on the latest minimum-wage bill's defeat:

Minimum-wage boost defeated
By The Associated Press and The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A Republican election-year effort to combine a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates with the first minimum-wage increase in nearly a decade was rejected by the Senate late Thursday.
Here is an article that details the Republican's strategy behind linking the minimum wage increase to the estate tax changes. It's basically a despicable attempt to play politics with an issue that impacts the very survival of too many American workers.

November looms behind trifecta bill
By Jonathan Allen and Elana Schor
The Hill

Many Republicans hailed a stratagem they said would put Democrats in an electoral bind by combining the GOP-favored estate-tax cut with a minimum-wage increase that has been a top Democratic issue and a widely popular extension of expiring tax breaks.
The following is a link to a PDF with a good analysis of the dire need for a minimum-wage increase -- detailing the decreased buying power of the dollar since 1997 when Congress last voted an increase.

Buying power of minimum wage at 51-year low (PDF)
Congress Could Break Record for Longest Period Without an Increase
By Jared Bernstein and Isaac Shapiro

The lack of action on the minimum wage has led to a dramatic erosion in its value:

The minimum wage now equals only 31% of the average wage for private sector, nonsupervisory workers. This is the lowest share since at least the end of World War II.

Since September 1997, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has deteriorated by 20%. After adjusting for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955.
This article describes the real-life impact that the paltry $5.15 wage has on American workers. For those who like to defend the "right" of businesses to set their own wage levels and decry the "burden" they have to shoulder with a higher payroll, this should add a little perspective. The need to turn a profit doesn't justify exploitation -- those who work hard for a living deserve to actually earn a living from that labor.

Low-wage workers ready for Congress to act
By Tony Pugh
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Whether from good will or simply politics, boosting the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour would lift the spirits and finances of millions of Americans such as Austraberta Rodriguez.

A janitor in Houston, Rodriguez, 63, works four hours a night, Monday through Friday, cleaning offices in a downtown high-rise for $5.15 an hour. After 10 years with the same company, she gets no medical benefits, sick days or holiday pay.
Finally, here is an article written by economists who have studied the issue and found little or no link between a moderate boost in the minimum wage and job loss. What costs there are for businesses are greatly outweighed by the tremendous benefit to workers. I recognize that a business owner may view a low-skill worker as easily replaceable, and therefore in a sense disposable -- not concerned about the impact of low-wages on the employee's health and productivity -- but we are still talking about human beings trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.

It's Time for a Raise (PDF)
Hundreds of Economists Support a Minimum Wage Increase

We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed. In particular, we share the view the Council of Economic Advisers expressed in the 1999 Economic Report of the President that “the weight of the evidence suggests that modest increases in the minimum wage have had very little or no effect on employment.” While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families.
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