In 1968, the federal minimum wage increased from $1.40 an hour to $1.60. Minimum-wage workers have not had it so good ever since.
In today’s dollars, that hourly pay amounts to $10.71, or $3.46 more than the current, federally mandated minimum wage. Even President Barack Obama’s latest effort to boost the minimum wage falls short of that 1968 benchmark. Obama announced that future employees of federal contractors would receive a minimum of $10.10 an hour, a federal target he’s hoping Congress will also approve but probably knows it won’t.
Given the current state of political affairs, the majority of congressional Republicans are not likely to jump on the minimum wage bandwagon, even though most Americans believe paychecks for the lowest-paid workers should get a boost. Plus, some conservative voices have suggested that raising the bottom wage could mean the poorest Americans would need less government assistance.
One of the latter, Ron Unz of California, has argued for a minimum wage of $12 an hour and is backing a ballot initiative in that state to do just that.
A $12 rate, the conservative activist has written, “would represent a real rise of merely 11 percent over a 45-year period, which seems reasonable since worker productivity has grown by over 115 percent during the same period.”
Unz and a host of economic analysts reject the knee-jerk complaint that a rise in the minimum wage would kill jobs. Sure there would be some anecdotal adjustments, but enlightened wage-payers know they get more work and more loyalty when employees can stand higher on the economic ladder.
No American with a full-time job should have to live in poverty, the president rightly declared again last week.
States, cities and businesses across the country are stepping up to the plate. Obama made an appearance at a Maryland Costco to highlight his effort and applaud private businesses that get it.
Missouri requires a minimum wage 25 cents higher than the federal rate, and a proposed ballot measure would boost that to $9.25. St. Louis’ Mayor Francis Slay has announced plans to pay city employees a minimum of $10.10. (Employees of Kansas City make a $9.79 minimum and current full-timers get $12.42 an hour or more, officials say.)
Members of Congress should do the right thing, but if they continue to fail American workers, we’ll hope the upward momentum on the minimum wage will continue broadly without them.