Today marks the fifth anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
The minimum wage has about 11% of its purchasing power due to inflation since 2009, making it harder for low-paid workers to make ends meet. (In comparison, CEO compensation rose 46% between 2009 and 2013.)
Some states have increased their own minimum wages, rather than waiting for Congress to do it. Nineteen states have set their own minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, including our neighboring states of Illinois ($8.35) and Michigan ($7.40), where a Republican-controlled legislature approved a recent wage increase to $9.25 by 2018. In Minnesota, the minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $9.50 by 2016. In contrast, state lawmakers in Wisconsin have taken no action to increase the minimum wage.
It’s too bad that Wisconsin lawmakers have refused to raise the minimum wage, because such a move would have broad-based benefits for workers. If we increased the minimum wage to $10.10, one-fifth of all Wisconsin workers, or 587,000 people, would receive a raise. One out of six children in Wisconsin – a total of 234,000 children – would have a parent who would benefit. Some argue that teenage workers would be the biggest beneficiaries of an increase in the minimum wage, but 79% of the Wisconsin workers who would benefit from an increase to $10.10 are 20 years or older.
To highlight the difficulties of living on the minimum wage, a new challenge called “Live the Wage” urges people to walk in the shoes of a minimum wage worker by living on a budget of $77 for one week. That’s the amount that a full-time minimum wage worker brings home, after taxes and housing costs. By participating in Live the Wage, you can experience yourself how tough it is to put food on the table, get to work, and provide for your children while earning the minimum wage. You can share your experiences on social media using the hashtag #LivetheWage.
Five years is too long to wait to give a leg up to people working at the lowest wages. If we can’t count on Congress to raise the wage, then Wisconsin should follow the example of neighboring states and give a raise to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers.
by Tamarine Cornelius