Predictably but shamefully, the Senate has blocked a measure that would, over three years, increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. In an election-year showdown, Senate Republicans rejected a centerpiece of the Democrats’ 2014 campaign. But the real losers are the nation’s workers, especially those who are struggling to make ends meets.
Last week, the Fair Minimum Wage Act failed to get the 60 votes needed to start a Senate debate. The vote was 54 to 42 — nearly half of the world’s greatest deliberative body didn’t think a living wage for millions of Americans was worth even talking about.
Supporters should reintroduce the measure soon; whatever political influence this issue has on the midterm elections favors them. The Senate’s action should spur more young, low-income, and minority voters — constituencies that tend to skip midterm elections — to show up this year.
Congress last raised the federal minimum wage in 2009. Had the wage been adjusted for inflation over the past 40 years, it now would exceed $10 an hour — the bare minimum most researchers say single adults need to support themselves, even in the Midwest.
Ohio’s minimum wage is $7.95 an hour. Roughly 330,000 workers — nearly 7 percent of the state’s work force — earn the statewide minimum or slightly more.
Polls show Americans strongly support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. A Bloomberg survey last month found 69 percent back the move nationwide. Support in Ohio is similar.
In opposing a minimum-wage hike, Senate Republicans, including Rob Portman of Ohio, tried to sound like champions of the poor, arguing that the change would hurt unskilled and young workers most. The facts say different.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would increase the hourly wages of 16.5 million workers and boost incomes by $2 billion. Studies conclude that as many as 4.6 million workers would rise above the poverty line.
Republicans conveniently omit those calculations when they cite CBO estimates that project a possible loss of 500,000 jobs nationwide. Such estimates are shaky at best, and previous increases in the federal minimum wage have had a negligible effect on the number of jobs.
Some economists believe a minimum-wage hike would create jobs by increasing consumer spending on food, clothing, household items, and other necessities. The National Employment Law Project estimates the Fair Minimum Wage Act would generate 140,000 new jobs over three years, as workers spend their extra cash in local businesses. Urban areas such as Toledo, where poverty rates are higher, would especially benefit.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would reduce public assistance. An estimated 88,000 Ohioans would no longer rely on food stamps, according to the Center for American Progress. Spending on food stamps nationwide would drop by $46 billion over 10 years.
In the past four decades, the minimum wage has lost more than 30 percent of its spending power. Tens of millions of Americans are working harder for less.
Americans consider a living wage a matter of basic fairness. They don’t believe anyone who works full-time should live in poverty. It’s a shame their elected representatives don’t feel the same way.