Today is Labor Day, set aside to honor the toil and skill of the American worker. More than a parade, more than a picnic, if there’s one thing many American workers want today, it’s a raise.
Chief executives and average employees of profitable companies receive regular raises. But higher pay is not in the cards for the 3.3 million U.S. workers who are paid the minimum wage.
The $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage has not changed since 2009. To have the same buying power, the wage should have grown to $8.05 by now. If the minimum wage had been adjusted for inflation over the past four decades, it would be more than $10 an hour today.
Senate Democrats and President Obama proposed a bill several months ago that would have raised the minimum wage over two years to $10.10 an hour, then indexed it to inflation. Republican lawmakers blocked consideration of the plan, and now it appears dead.
That’s a shame for workers who make minimum wage, half of whom are between 25 and 65. It’s an embarrassment for the United States, which stacks up poorly in a minimum-wage comparison with other developed nations.
Using 2012 data, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that the U.S. minimum wage ranked 26th out of 27 countries, as a percentage of the average wage in each country. Australia, Canada, and Great Britain ranked ahead of the United States, as did Japan, South Korea, Poland, and Slovakia. Only Mexico’s minimum wage was worse.
Improving the lot of other Americans — those who have lost family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to foreign competition, for instance — will require greater efforts, such as revamped trade policy. For now, though, Congress can best honor the minimum-wage worker with a simple raise.