Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Minimum wage lower today than during the March on Washington

50 years ago: Teamsters head to D.C.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a significant moment in civil rights and labor history. In the days leading up to the celebration, we are going to reexamine the demands of protesters, including many Teamsters, and measure them against the progress made in the past 50 years.

The march was as much about creating more good jobs as it was about racial discrimination. Organizers, after all, called it, "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." Since 1963, the percentage of people in poverty has fallen, from about 20 percent in 1963 to about 15 percent today.

One of the most overlooked demands of the march was “a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living.” Protesters wanted $2.00 an hour.

Today, that $2.00 hourly wage would equal $15.26 per hour, similar to what the “Strike for 15” coalition of fast food and other low-paid workers across the country are advocating.

Though low-wage workers are fighting for the same economic opportunities they were 50 years ago, their current economic reality is much worse.

Today the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Some political leaders have been talking about increasing the wage, but no significant effort has been put into reform.

In August of 1963, theminimum wage was $1.15. Today, a minimum wage worker who attended the March on Washington would be making an hourly rate of $8.78, according to the ConsumerPrice Index converter. The difference is that back then that rate was considered so low that Congress increased the rate less than a month later.

If the minimum wage were tied to inflation, full-time minimum wage workers would be making over $3,000 extra annually.

The impact is readily felt. Assuming a minimum wage employee works full time, with no time off for vacation, holidays, or illness, they would still need $7,000 to avoid falling below the official poverty line if they take care of anyone else

For a family of four with two kids, the Census Bureau says the absolute minimum workers need to support themselves is $22,811. At minimum wage, one worker would need to work more than 60 hours a week to support a family with the bare essentials.

Back in 1963, the same worker would have worked 10 fewer hours to meet the same requirements.

Obviously, many workers are forced to look for additional help.

The food stamp program, known as SNAP, was established permanently in 1963 to feed hungry low-income American families.

In the first two years of the program, fewer than a half million people were enrolled. Today 47 million people, or 15 percent of Americans, are enrolled. Another 15 million people are financially eligible for SNAP, but haven't enrolled in the program.

With wages stagnating and low income jobs on the rise, maybe it’s time to start marching again.