Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

January 15,  2007  



Fed minimum wage hike would help singles

By Thomas F. Coleman

The United States House of Representatives voted last week to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour, a move that will help increase the standard of living for millions of low-wage Americans, including and especially single people.

The last increase in the minimum wage occurred in 1997, after President Bill Clinton prodded Republicans to approve it.  In the ensuring years that Republicans have controlled Congress, they have successfully opposed all efforts to increase the minimum wage any further. 

Some 82 Republicans in the House broke ranks with their party to vote with Democrats in supporting a hike this year, causing the measure to pass by a 3 to 1 margin.  The final vote was 315 to 116.

Results of a recent public opinion survey may have given these Republican politicians an incentive to back the current minimum wage bill.

An Associated Press -- AOL News poll conducted two weeks ago showed an overwhelming 80 percent of Americans supporting the Democrats proposal to hike the current minimum wage of $5.15 by $2.10 in phases over the next two years.  A large majority of Republican voters, about 65 percent, support the measure.

Perhaps mindful of public opinion on this issue, legislators and governors in several states have passed statewide minimum wage hikes in their own jurisdictions.  A recent Associated Press story reported that seven states -- Arizona, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania -- have increased the minimum wage effective January 1, 2007.

New Yorkers, for example, will now be paid at least $7.15 for their labor.  California and Massachusetts minimum-wage workers will see earnings as high as $7.50 per hour.

Last November, voters in several states voted in favor of ballot initiatives mandating minimum wage increases.  Such measures were approved by voters in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio.

What is noteworthy about these ballot measures -- and what distinguishes them from the federal bill -- is a provision linking future increases in the minimum wage to the rate of inflation, so that voters would not have to respond to a new a ballot measure every few years.

Some conservatives offer two arguments in opposition to an increases in the federal minimum wage. 

The website of the John Birch Society, for example, published a recent commentary arguing that an increased minimum wage requirement will hurt small businesses and cause them to lay off workers.  The commentary also suggested that an increase was unwarranted because it would mostly help young single people rather than families living in poverty.

The federal bill will have the greatest impact in helping the nearly 2 million workers who have been making $5.15 per hour or less.  "Most of these workers are young--under 25 years old--and tend to be women, unmarried, from minority backgrounds and typically work part-time hours," according to

So, yes, it is true that a federal minimum wage hike will help single people.  So what?  Don't single people deserve decent compensation for their labor?

As for the argument that a minimum wage hike will hurt businesses and cost jobs, many economists say that it not true.

According to the analysis by Forbes, more than 650 economists--including five winners of the Nobel Price for economics--predict that a wage hike would have little to no effect on employment.  In other words, there will be no significant loss of jobs.

As for hurting businesses, Forbes says "the hike also won't represent much of a change, since 28 states have already adopted minimum-wage increases since 1997, and so few workers make $5.15 per hour or less."

So unless there is a presidential veto, or unless conservatives in the Senate derail the bill by linking it to tax cuts for businesses, it looks like millions of low income workers -- whether single or married, with or without dependents -- will be getting a long overdue pay hike in the near future.

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Unmarried America 2006

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.