Thanks to continued inaction by Congress, even in the face of soaring living costs and worsening inequality, Sunday marked a staggering 3,615 days since the last federal minimum wage increase.
“Forget tax cuts for the wealthy! If Congress wants to kick our economy into hyperdrive and restore the country’s middle class, it’s time for them to stop stalling and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
—Morris Pearl, Patriotic Millionaires
That’s the longest period of stagnation since the federal minimum wage was enacted under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, HuffPost reported. The minimum wage was last raised on July 24, 2009, from $6.55 an hour to the current rate of $7.25.
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David Cooper, deputy director of the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN), noted in a blog post on Monday that while the federal minimum wage has remained the same, its purchasing power has eroded significantly due to inflation.
“As the graphic shows, when the minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 in July 2009, it had a purchasing power equivalent to $8.70 in today’s dollars,” Cooper wrote. “Over the last 10 years, as the minimum wage has remained at $7.25, its purchasing power has declined by 17 percent. For a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker, this represents a loss of over $3,000 in annual earnings.”
According to CBS, “cost of living has jumped 18 percent” since the last miminum wage increase, “eroding the buying power of that $7.25 an hour to $6.”
Progressives seized upon the “shameful” 3,615-day milestone as all the more reason to push for a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. According to a report published in February the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would boost the pay of nearly 40 million workers.
“I’ve been criticized for this so let me say it again: the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr is a starvation wage,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted on Sunday. “Every worker deserves a living wage of at least $15 an hour.”
The Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024, currently has 205 co-sponsors in the House and 31 in the Senate.
As Common Dreams reported in April, progressive Democrats in Congress are fighting attempts by centrists to derail the push for a $15 federal minimum by establishing a so-called “regional wage” adjusted to local cost of living.
While Congress fails to act, six states have passed $15 minimum wage laws in recent months.
In an op-ed for CNBC on Saturday, Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl wrote that by failing to raise the minimum wage for nearly a decade, “Congress has left 11.4 percent of working Americans living with poverty wages despite working full-time jobs.”
“Forty percent of American workers make less than $15 an hour,” Pearl wrote, “and not coincidentally, recent studies show that nearly 40 percent of Americans have trouble affording at least one of their basic necessities like housing or food.”
“Forget tax cuts for the wealthy!” added Pearl. “If Congress wants to kick our economy into hyperdrive and restore the country’s middle class, it’s time for them to stop stalling and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
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