The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing yesterday titled “From Poverty to Opportunity: How a Fair Minimum Wage Will Help Working Families Succeed,” highlighting the impact a raise in the minimum wage would have on America’s working families.
“When working families must rely on food stamps and food banks to feed their children because wages are so low, that is unacceptable,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D., Iowa, chairman of the HELP committee. Harkin’s legislation, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, will raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three steps, link the minimum wage to the cost of living, and increase the wages of tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years.
During the hearing’s first panel, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez addressed America’s need for more jobs, saying, “We have to continue to grow the economy and the availability of jobs with good wages – jobs in construction, in manufacturing, in energy and throughout the economy.” While opponents of raising the minimum wage have argued that a raise will solely benefit working teenagers, Perez noted that 88 percent of those who would benefit from an increase are 20 years or older. More than 60 percent of minimum wage workers are women, many of whom have children.
Alicia McCrary, a single mother of four and a fast food worker in Iowa, put a human face on the issue. McCrary works 20-25 hours a week, makes $7.65 an hour, and relies on public assistance to help her pay for family expenses. “I earn about $450 a month from my job, receive $456 from TANF and about $240 in food assistance… my fixed expenses like rent, utilities and bus passes cost almost $600 a month,” McCrary said.
Other panelists at the hearing included Dr. Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.