Hurricane Katrina putting a national spotlight on the plight of
the poor, some Democrats in Congress are renewing their call for
a hike in the federal minimum wage. Republicans, in
contrast, are calling for more tax breaks for businesses.
Republicans, who generally oppose minimum wage hikes, are in
control of Congress and the Presidency, it seems rather clear
that people who work at minimum wage jobs will have to turn to
state politicians for any relief in the near future.
federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour. That rate was
established by Congress in 1997 and hasn't budged a penny in
eight years despite rising costs for housing, fuel, and other
states now have a higher minimum wage than the federal mandate.
California Legislature sent a minimum wage hike bill to Gov.
Schwarzenegger last week.
Schwarzenegger has promised to veto the measure which, if signed
into law, would increase the state's current minimum wage by $1
per hour over the next two years and establish automatic
increases, known as indexing, to keep pace with inflation.
California's current rate of
$6.75-an-hour is now lower than the rates in five states: Alaska
($7.15), Connecticut ($7.40), Oregon ($7.25), Vermont ($7) and
Washington ($7.35, according to the National Conference of State
Linda Lingle, a Republican, did not veto a measure passed by the
Hawaii Legislature this year which, in a two-step process,
raises the minimum in that state to $7.25 by January 2007.
Last year the
voters in Florida approved a ballot measure which raises the
minimum wage to $6.15 and links future raises to inflation.
The initiative passed with 71 percent approval, giving
California labor advocates an incentive to take the issue
directly to the voters if
Schwarzenegger follows through
with his threatened veto.
who oppose minimum wage hikes sometimes argue that most of the
people who work at these low-paying jobs are teenagers living at
home with their parents. Opponents claim that this small
group of youngsters don't really need higher wages for survival.
But the facts
show otherwise. There is a large pool of minimum wage
workers at all age levels, most of whom are adults who are not
dependents of their parents any longer but who have full
responsibility for their own lives.
2004 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 2
million employees in the nation are working at or below the
federal minimum wage. More than 75 percent of these
workers are unmarried.
of those who work at minimum wages are 25 years of age or older.
So much for the political propaganda that paints these workers
as young and carefree teenagers.
employees in the 25 to 54 age group are much more likely to be
struggling at minimum wages than their married co-workers.
Those who have never married are more than twice as likely to
have minimum wage jobs than married workers, while those who are
divorced or widowed are 58 percent more likely to do so.
wonder whether the marital status of those in positions of power
might play a role, unconscious or otherwise, in their decision
to support or oppose minimum wage hikes, which mostly benefit
voters approved a boost in the minimum wage. It so happens
that nearly 52 percent of households in Florida are headed by
Lingle allowed that state's hike in the minimum wage to become
law. Lingle is unmarried.
in Congress, where 85 percent of its members are married,
proposals to raise the minimum wage have been defeated for the
past several years. And California's
Schwarzenegger, married to a
celebrity Democrat, is threatening to veto the minimum wage hike
measure now on his desk.
In an ideal
world, marital status would not matter when decisions are made
concerning the well being, indeed the survival, of low-income
Do the math.
No one can be expected to pay rent, utilities, food,
transportation, and other basic costs on less than a "living
wage" much less on a federal minimum wage of $5.15 or even on a
California minimum wage of $6.75 per hour.
again, with federal deficits soaring year after year, and states
like California using accounting gimmicks to achieve phony
balanced budgets, it should be obvious that our lawmakers are
better at juggling and magic tricks than they are at basic
Unmarried America 2005
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and