The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

What is your slice of the economic pie? Making the case for a sensible minimum wage

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Gap employee Ni’Jean Gibson helps a customer in February 2014 in San Francisco. Gap Inc. announced that it will raise its hourly minimum wage for US employees to $9 in June 2014 and to $10 by June 2015. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images Gap employee Ni’Jean Gibson helps a customer in February 2014 in San Francisco. Gap Inc. announced that it will raise its hourly minimum wage for US employees to $9 in June 2014 and to $10 by June 2015. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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$10.10/hour can mean the difference between going hungry, or not.

Minor Sinclair is Oxfam America’s US Regional Director.

I work full-time cooking food for other people, while struggling to feed my own family. And I work the night shift so I am there to care for my children during the day – meaning that in addition to being hungry, I am tired all the time…

~Joanna Cruz, a New Jersey mother of three who works as a cook and member of Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy and research project of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at the Drexel University School of Public Health

Joanna Cruz is just one of the millions of Americans who do arduous work in jobs that pay too little and offer too few benefits. But for too many people working hard and hoping to lift themselves out of poverty, the ladder has been kicked away.

Today Oxfam launches an interactive series of maps on the working poor and a new report that illustrates how raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would give 25 million workers across the US a much-needed raise. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which works out to $15,080 per year for a full-time worker. That’s almost $4,000 under the poverty line for a family of three.

Why would it make sense for families?

  • Raising the federal minimum wage would lift more than five million Americans out of poverty. It’s not teenagers earning extra cash. In fact, the average age of a low-wage worker is 35 years.
  • A third of low-wage workers are parents of dependent children. It would help 14 million children see a boost in their family income.
  • Three million single parents would be better able to sustain their families.
  • Fourteen million women – including six million working mothers – would get a raise.
  • Many families would see an extra $1,300 a year: enough to buy 10 weeks of groceries for a family of four.

 “I work hard in hopes of surviving without food stamps or other public assistance, but I still qualify for food stamps. I receive less than $6 per person per day. What other people might spend on their morning coffee at Starbucks, I budget to feed my child for an entire day, and often I go without eating to make sure my children are fed.”

~Joanna Cruz 

Why would it make sense for American taxpayers?

From 1938 when a federal minimum wage was established, to 2007 when it was passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, most members of Congress recognized that as the cost of living goes up, so should the minimum wage. But the minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for seven years, and the minimum wage is more than 30 percent below what it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.

The minimum wage issue has become bogged down in partisan politics that do little to serve our people or our future. Members of Congress of both parties need to be willing to overcome the divide – to be open to the debate, to consider the needs of hard-working constituents and taxpayers like Joanna Cruz, to consider the wide range of benefits, and ultimately, to give a raise to the people who need and deserve it the most.

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  1. richardsfair@gmail.com'Richard Tilley

    I am Canadian so I view this issue from a slightly differing perspective although poverty is poverty no matter where you live. The shame of a nation is having people work for it.
    More sensible than minimum wage is livable wage adjusted to the cost of living for the area or community.

    Reply

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