Wage raise under debate

By Pankaj Adhikari Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-5 17:38:01

Hike to $10.10 would benefit 16.5 million workers

With the jobless rate falling, a smaller deficit and cheaper fuel, there is growing pressure from both workers and politicians on the federal government to raise the minimum wage across the country.

President Barack Obama recently expressed concern over the issue. "If we want to keep fighting to raise the minimum wage, I need supporters like you, who won't quit, standing by my side and making your voice heard," the president said in his state-of-the-union address on January 20.

The country has "risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nations on Earth," said the president.

At present the US ranks 13th in the world with the current federal minimum wage standing at $7.25 per hour. A full-time minimum wage employee earns just $15,080 annually, putting them barely above the poverty threshold for a single person, which stood at $11,945 in 2012.

For a single wage-earner for a family of four, where the poverty line is $22,283, the minimum wage would leave them well short of the funds needed for even a barebones existence.

Suparno Chaudhuri, a digital marketing strategist based in New York, told the Global Times, "The necessity of a government-set minimum wage may be debatable, but it's a fact that it prevents many employers from paying their employees immorally. Many employers take advantage of the present loopholes in the system, which needs to be stopped."

An employee with The Q Restaurant in Boston, who requested not to be named, said to Global Times: "Low-wage workers know they have to enhance their skills to escape low-wage jobs, but long hours and multiple jobs make skill-building and education nearly impossible. Federal government must find ways to raise the minimum wage."

Low-wage workers always put considerable effort into maximizing paid hours with multiple jobs, limiting their own time to search for better jobs and learn new skills, said Chaudhuri.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in 2014 that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation would increase the wages of 16.5 million workers in 2016, while raising it to $9 without indexing would affect 7.6 million.

Melissa Chu, a daily wage earner at a private farm in West Caldwell, New Jersey, said to the Global Times: "Policy-makers should focus on improving the conditions of low-wage work rather than expecting workers to move out of this labor market on their own."

She added, "A minimum wage not only guarantees bare subsistence and preserves efficiency, but also provides for education, medical requirements and some level of comfort. Payment of wages below the minimum wage rate amounts to forced labor."

Washington DC and 22 states, including California, have raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum, the New York Times reported.

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