Raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation and the cost of living would put money into the hands of low-wage workers, stimulate the economy, and lead to a better quality of life for all Americans, according to a panel of labor and civil rights experts who testified at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).
It’s time to “smooth the path to the middle class and fulfill the promises” of the American Dream, said Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, in his testimony before the HELP Committee. Harris also noted that a minimum wage adjustment would benefit between 15 to 27 million people.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D. Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D. Calif., would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2015 and adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living. The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has been stagnant at $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. According to the National Employment Law Project, the Fair Minimum Wage Act would generate more than $32 billion in new economic activity, translating to 140,000 new full-time jobs.
Dr. Michael Reich, advisor at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, rebuked claims that increasing the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. He countered that it would serve to make available positions more attractive for low-wage workers. “This doesn’t kill jobs, but it kills job vacancies,” said Reich.
Studies also show that when the minimum wage has been increased, there has been no significant reduction in employment or slowing of job growth, even when the economy was struggling. Instead, higher wages help to foster economic recovery and job growth.
Civil and human rights advocates agree that it is only logical to reward American workers in a way that will reaffirm their faith in the country’s ability to provide its workforce with a living wage. Hilary Shelton, the NAACP Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, pointed out that African Americans make up only 11 percent of the workforce, but are 14 percent of those that would benefit from a higher minimum wage.
This “is a matter of basic justice and fairness,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D. Mass.
The Leadership Conference believes that the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 takes necessary steps to help working families make ends meet, sustain consumer spending, and spur economic recovery, and has sent a letter to senators urging them to pass the bill.