Ten years ago this week I suggested to Bill Clinton we ought to try to raise the minimum wage. It hadn’t been raised in years. Some ten million people worked at the minimum wage, most of them heads of households. The timing seemed good. Elections would be coming up in the fall. The vast majority of Americans were in favor of raising the minimum wage. Yes, Republicans controlled Congress and it would be a big fight. But the fight was worth it. We won. Millions of working poor got a raise.
Message to Democrats: It’s time to do it again. Current estimates are that 12 million Americans are at the federal minimum wage (now $5.15 an hour). Almost all the 1996 increase has been eroded by inflation. Democrats should propose increasing it to at least $7 an hour. Force Republicans to vote on it. If they refuse to, or they vote it down, make it a big issue in the fall campaign. Contrast the plight of America’s 30-million working poor with the fortunes of America’s CEOs. The CEO of Exxon-Mobile just raked in over $400 million for his efforts last year. Assuming he worked a normal work week (not counting time on the golf course with members of his compensation committee), he got about $200,000 an hour. Other CEOs aren’t too far behind. Raising the federal minimum wage from its current $5.15 to $7 an hour would hardly cripple the national economy. It would put more money in peoples’ pockets they could use to buy what they need. And it would attract more people into the job market. In 1996, Republicans predicted that the raise from $4.25 to $5.15 would result in millions of job losses. But in fact, about 13 million new jobs were added to the American economy between 1996 and 2000.
Earth to Congressional Democrats: Now’s the time. Tenth anniversary. All the gain then now lost to inflation. 85 percent of Americans favor it. Mid-term election in the fall. It’s a no-brainer.