Op-ed: No one who works full time should live in poverty

Let's raise the minimum wage to $15

Sherrod Brown is a U.S. senator from Ohio.

This week, as workers in Cincinnati and across the country participate in a National Day of Action, I join them in demanding a living wage for the millions of Americans who are working hard but struggling to get by.

Sherrod Brown

Forty-two percent of American workers – and 45 percent of Ohio workers – make less than $15 per hour. This leaves workers wondering how they’ll make ends meet and forces them to make impossible decisions – should they make an ill child go to school or should they stay home and lose a day’s pay? Should they pay for groceries or the gas to get to work?

This is unacceptable. No one in this country who works full time should be forced to live in poverty.

Purchasing Power has Dropped

For many workers, it feels as though the harder and longer they work, the less they have to show for it—and they aren’t imagining things. American workers are among the most productive in the world but company revenues are more likely to go to corporate profits than wages. Today, the purchasing power of the minimum wage is 30 percent lower than in 1968.

The Pay Workers a Living Wage Act would return this country to the tradition of rewarding hard work with fair pay. The bill, which I introduced with my colleagues, would phase in a national $15 minimum wage by 2020 in five graduated steps. It would gradually raise each year until 2020, after which it would be indexed to the median hourly wage.

The bill would also phase out the tipped minimum wage, which has been frozen at just $2.13 an hour for two decades at the federal level. Not only is the tipped minimum wage shamefully low, but its existence further perpetuates the gender pay gap. Nearly 70 percent of tipped restaurant workers are women—and 40 percent of those women are mothers.

Jobs Won't Be Cut, Prices Won't Go Up

Critics of a higher minimum wage claim that allowing low-income workers to earn a living wage will force businesses to raise prices to levels that consumers won’t be able to afford. But when corporate executives give themselves million-dollar bonuses, no one in the media wrings their hands worrying that prices will go up.

A recent University of Massachusetts-Amherst study found that a $15 minimum wage could be fully absorbed by the food industry – which employs 47 percent of all minimum wage workers – without resorting to job cuts. A Purdue University study found that it would only raise the price of a Big Mac a grand total of 17 cents.

And when workers have more money in their pockets, they have more money to pump into their local communities.

I urge everyone in Washington to listen to the voices of the hundreds of thousands of workers taking action this week around the country, demanding fair pay for their labor. Americans who work hard to support their families should not be forced to live in poverty.

 

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