The minimum wage needs to be increased now

Dear Editor: With the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 and its enactment of the minimum wage laws, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signaled our nation’s commitment to ensuring that America’s workers take home a livable salary on pay day. Originally intended to protect workers from being exploited and overworked in the wake of the Great Depression, the minimum wage is today premised on the notion that those who put in a full day’s work have earned the right to take home a minimum, but fair, paycheck. At least that is what it is supposed to do. Today’s minimum wage of $5.15 per hour gives those Americans trying to pull themselves out of the throes of poverty the false promises of hope and opportunity. With a purchasing power that is more than $2.00 below its 1968 value of $7.72, today’s minimum wage often does not provide workers with the means to support a family — especially here in northern New Jersey. A single mother working full time, raising two children on the minimum wage, earns only $10,700 per year. In an era that has witnessed the longest economic expansion in American history, this figure is appalling. Fairness and decency dictate that we act to ease the financial burden on hardworking families that depend on the minimum wage. This is why President Clinton and Congressional Democrats have proposed raising the minimum wage by $1 over two years to $6.15. This modest increase is needed to give America’s poorest working families and individuals the economic booster shot they need to support their efforts to earn the American Dream. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 20 million Americans work today at or near the minimum wage: 72 percent of them are over the age of 20; and 48 percent of them are employed full time. These low-paid workers are the men and women who work in our nation’s day care centers and who tend to our parents in need of long term care. They are the people who work in our neighborhood restaurants and our local supermarkets. They are the Americans who keep our society running smoothly, but who have nevertheless been excluded from sharing in today’s economic golden age. Throughout the 1980s, the minimum wage was stuck at $3.35 per hour due to concerns about adverse effects on the economy that might result from a minimum wage increase. However, a 1998 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the 1996 minimum wage increase to $5.15 per hour had no measurable negative effect on jobs or inflation. In fact, employment in New Jersey has actually increased since 1996 with 225,000 new jobs having been created, including over 35,000 in the retail industry. In addition, the unemployment rate has dropped by 25 percent to under 4 percent. The idea that those who work hard and play by the rules should have the ability to earn the American Dream is central to most American’s views of their country. If America’s present era of prosperity is to continue, and if we are to move forward through this new century as one nation, Congress must help America’s poorest working families and individuals take home a salary that puts food on the table. Congress must increase the minimum wage now. Rep. Steve Rothman District 201


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