Congress Keeps Minimum Wage Workers Waiting for a Bigger Pay Day

Last week the House approved an increase in the federal minimum wage in a 315-116 vote. Low-wage earners were one step closer to getting a raise before the Senate rejected the proposed $2.10 increase.

For the last 10 years the federal minimum wage has remained the same, bringing the real buying power to the lowest point in more than 50 years. An hourly salary of $5.15 today is the equivalent of $3.95 in 1995, which is lower than the $4.25 minimum wage before the increase.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that 5.6 million workers would have been directly affected by the increase. The salaries of over 9 million Americans who have wages slightly above the minimum would also go up, bringing the total number of people affected to almost 15 million.

In the U.S., a disproportionate number of minorities and women are minimum wage earners. While African-Americans represent 11 percent of the workforce, they amount for 16 percent of minimum wage workers. Similarly, Latinos make up 14 percent of the workforce, and 19 percent of minimum wage earners. Women account for 59 percent of those directly paid or supported by minimum wages.

The minimum wage for the District of Columbia is $7.00. By statute, the District’s minimum wage is set (at least) $1.00 above the federal minimum wage. If the federal minimum wage goes to $7.25, the District’s minimum wage would rise to $8.25.Those who disagree with the minimum wage increase say small businesses may be forced to eliminate jobs, reduce hours or cut back on benefits. Others say that there should be no minimum wage standards at all.

Will Cleveland, 58, who has lived and worked in the District for over 20 years, said that hard work should be the major determinant of wages. “In America you have the chance to move into higher-paying positions,” he said, “Minimum wage jobs are stepping stones.”

Cleveland, who worked in a number of low-wage jobs before becoming a restaurant owner, concluded that wage usually correlates with ones level of skill.

Other residents in the district say hard work does not always lead to higher income.Sophia Abate, an Ethiopian immigrant, has been working in low-wage positions ever since she came to America 19 years ago. “I work very hard,” she said, “but I never have extra.”

A cashier at Julia’s Empanadas in Washington, Abate said that she could never afford to bring her two children to the U.S. and that higher minimum wage could have helped with her rent. “It just doesn’t make sense for housing prices to go up and wages to stay the same,” she said.

Jose Andrade, Manager of a Washington record store, said he will adjust the salaries of his employees even though the bill wasn’t approved. “The minimum wage is just not sufficient for the high cost of living in DC,” he said.

He continued, “A lot of African- American’s and Latinos can no longer afford to live in DC. This is sad for a place that used to be known as ‘Chocolate City.'”