Friday, June 6, 2003

 

A hike in the minimum wage would help low-income singles

Columnist Jack Z. Smith published a commentary today in the Fort Worth Star Telegram in which he criticized the recent tax cut bill's failure to provide any tax relief to millions of low-income single workers.  He suggested that one way for Congress to partially make up for this omission would be to hike the minimum wage.

Smith's commentary does not mention it, but studies have shown that the majority of workers who make minimum wages are single people.

Here's what Smith had to say in his column, which was also published by other newspapers such as the Miami Herald:

Millions of low-income Americans won't get any benefits under new tax cuts signed into law by President Bush. That's hardly a shocker. His economic policy, as exemplified by his mania for tax cuts, is tilted toward helping the most those who need help the least.

Here are two news items since the tax-cut law passed:

 About eight million mostly low-income taxpayers will receive no benefits from the law, according to a study by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The study says that these taxpayers are predominantly low-income single people who are without children and have no income from dividends or capital gains.

 Another study by the two aforementioned entities and Citizens for Tax Justice showed that 6.5 million lowincome families with incomes between $10,500 and $26,625 would not receive a $400 child-care tax credit provided under the law.

LIKE REAGAN

Pressured by Democrats, Senate Republicans agreed Thursday to expand the benefit to the low-income families, provided more high-income families also received it.

Just as it did in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president, the GOP Party under George W. Bush is promoting policies that expand the economic gap between the upper class and the working class.

It's time to do something for Americans who work for dirt-low wages -- those folks who take your burger order, wash your car, clean your hotel room or perform myriad other tasks for an annual income that's less than what GOP morality guru William Bennett might blow during a weekend in Las Vegas.

Congress should help low-income workers by raising the minimum wage, which hasn't been increased in six years and has less buying power than the minimum wage of earlier decades.

Legislation pending in Congress would raise the minimum wage from a pathetically low $5.15 an hour to $6.65. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2003 would boost the wage to $5.90 within 60 days after the bill passed and to $6.65 a year later, for a total increase of $1.50.

SOLE INCOME FOR MANY

A higher minimum would not only raise the pay of the lowest-wage workers but also put upward pressure on the wages of people making $1 to $3 an hour above the minimum.

The minimum wage hasn't kept pace with inflation.

In 1968, I worked for the minimum wage of $1.60 an hour on an oil and gas seismograph crew. Today, a person would need to make $8.46 an hour to have the same buying power as that $1.60 wage of 35 years ago, according to a cost calculation index of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

It's true that many people who earn the minimum wage or slightly more are students from middle- or upper-class families. But millions of America's lowest-wage earners come from humble ranks, are well into adulthood and rely on their jobs for survival.

These people not only are trying to scrape by on horribly low wages but often lack job benefits such as health insurance and paid vacations that most workers take for granted.

The current $5.15 minimum is so out of whack with economic reality that dozens of U.S. cities have approved a much higher ''living wage'' that in some cases exceeds $9 an hour. A living wage might apply only to municipal workers and businesses that contract with a city government, or it could cover a broader scope of the work force.

Whenever Democrats propose to raise the minimum wage, Republicans counter that it would cause large-scale layoffs of low-income workers, numerous small-business failures and a jump in inflation. That's predominant bunk.

A GESTURE OF KINDNESS

Most recent increases haven't had the widespread negative impact that the GOP has prophesied. But those increases have helped low-income workers put food on the table, buy shoes for their children, replace a worn-out washing machine or pay for a brake job on an aging car.

The Democrats' proposal for a phased-in increase to $6.65 is reasonable. At the very least, Bush and the GOP should be willing to support a paltry $1 increase to $6.15.

They could even give this uncharacteristic gesture of kindness a label that might score them political points. How about calling it ``compassionate conservatism''?

 

Jack Z. Smith is a Star-Telegram editorial writer. (817) 390-7724 jzsmith@star-telegram.com

 

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