My American Dream: A minimum wage that allows everyone to prosper

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

When I think of the American Dream, I don’t just see images of white picket fences and fathers kissing their children before they leave for work.

I see an African-American mother of two dropping her children off at school and driving to her place of employment with the confidence that she’ll have enough gas to get to work and enough food to cook dinner. I imagine a Latina mother able to save enough money to help her son go to the college of his choice regardless of the rising cost of tuition. I see an America where working 40 hours a week allows women of all backgrounds the opportunity to gain prosperity and success. But how can anyone achieve such a dream on $7.25 an hour? They can’t.

We need to raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 to help hardworking families who are struggling to scrape by. In tough economic times, there are few policies that could have as immediate, and as dramatic, of a boost for American workers, particularly for women of color.

This is why I’m angry at Senate Republicans for using the filibuster recently to block a minimum wage vote. Callously, they gave a cold shoulder to the millions of hardworking families who work full time but live in poverty. Even worse, their indifference is being outdone by House Republicans, who are refusing to spare a moment of attention for those who live below the poverty line.

This issue is too important to let fizzle or be defeated by typical Washington D.C. partisan politics. Democrats in the Senate must schedule more votes to increase the minimum wage and Democrats in the House must raise their voices even louder. But if Republicans are not going to help working families, Americans — particularly women of color — need to wake up and make their voices heard.

Why women of color? Let me throw some facts at you:

1. Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Nearly three in ten female minimum wage workers are women of color.

2. If the minimum wage was raised to $10.10 as President Obama and Senate Democrats are proposing, 25 to 28 million workers would get a raise! About 55% of them–more than 15 million people–are women.

3. For every dollar men are paid, women receive just 77 cents. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation would close roughly 5% of the gender wage gap.

Here is reality: Many minimum wage workers are breadwinners for their families and55% work full time. The median age of an affected worker is 34 years old. More than2.2 million single moms would benefit from a minimum wage increase and 31% of affected women have children.

Not only could a higher minimum wage help achieve equal pay, but it would give 14 million children more to eat. American productivity has skyrocketed. If the minimum wage were tied to productivity, it would be $21.72. Instead, the federal wage is a lowly $7.25. And that doesn’t apply to tipped workers or someone with a disability or someone who works in an exempt industry.

This is a system that encourages poverty and it’s just wrong. No one should work full time but be unable to get by. So, remember, this debate in Congress is not a matter of abstract economics. It’s an example of how government can make an immediate impact helping millions of working families — our families.

We live in America, the country where we are taught any dream can come true. Where young Latinas can aspire to be Supreme Court Justices and young Black men can look to be the President of the United States. But that cannot happen if their parents are working low-paying jobs and unable to provide them with the resources they need to achieve those dreams.

Today, I am asking you to take action. Will you join me in applying pressure to our Senators and Representatives to ensure that our communities make a decent wage? Will you fight against the ones who vote against working families and call out the ones who won’t take a stand? The time is now to speak up for our American Dream, and to demand Congress give our families, children, and our future a fair shot.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted May 14, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Interesting vote in Switzerland this weekend. The proposal is a minimum monthly wage of 4 000.- Swiss francs. That’s 4 500 US dollars.

    The polls are suggesting the proposal will be rejected.

    I don’t know what to think.

  2. Posted May 25, 2014 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    This week, Hawaii became one of the first states to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour (when it takes full effect in four years). It was passed by our state Legislature and signed by our Governor, former US Representative Neil Abercrombie.

    “I always thought it’s not a minimum wage, it’s a survival wage,” Abercrombie said. “And in today’s world, that minimum wage is not a survival wage, certainly in Hawaii.”

    Indeed. I do not know why $10.10 per hour is the figure bandied about around the country. One cannot compare the cost of living in e.g., Oklahoma, to the cost of living in Hawaii. You could make three times that amount ($30 per hour) and still never buy a home in Hawaii, save for retirement or send your children to college. (I am unable to afford UH resident tuition of $9,000 per year for myself or my children; or afford school housing regardless, because we live on another island. When I first went to university, tuition was under $1,000 a year, and housing and a meal plan about $3,000 more. A student could work part time (or even full time just during the summer) and put themselves through college without taking on a loan.)

    I do not believe in raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour or even $15 per hour. I believe in a “living wage.” My American Dream is people who work full time can afford to house and feed a family in the community in which they live, receive health care, educate their children and save for the future, even if they live in New York City and work at McDonalds. A minimum wage of $21.72 per hour (more than I make as a nurse, BTW), would be just a start.

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