Last week, workers in Ohio and across the country participated in a National Day of Action, demanding a living wage for the millions of Americans who are working hard but struggling to get by on the minimum wage.
Forty-two percent of American workers – and 45 percent of Ohio workers – make less than $15 per hour. Among African-American workers, more than half earn less than $15 an hour, and among Latino workers it’s close to 60 percent.
This is unacceptable. No one in this country who works full time should be forced to live in poverty.
For many workers, it feels as though the harder and longer they work, the less they have to show for it—and they aren’t imagining things. American workers are among the most productive in the world. But in most industries over the past several decades, the share of companies’ revenues going to wages has dropped, while the share of revenues going toward corporate profits has soared. Today the purchasing power of the minimum wage is 30 percent lower than in 1968.
We need to return to the American tradition of rewarding hard work with fair pay and good benefits. That means increasing the minimum wage, which is what the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act will do. The bill, which I introduced with my colleagues, would phase in a national $15 minimum wage by 2020 in five graduated steps. It would begin by raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2016, and gradually raise that amount each year until 2020, after which it would be indexed to the median hourly wage.
The bill would also phase out the tipped minimum wage, which has been frozen at just $2.13 an hour for two decades at the federal level. Not only is the tipped minimum wage shamefully low, but its existence further perpetuates the gender pay gap. Nearly 70 percent of tipped restaurant workers are women—and 40 percent of those women are mothers.
Raising the minimum wage would help grow our middle class, and grow our economy.
Forty-seven percent of all minimum wage workers are working in the food industry, which has tried to scare Americans with the specter of $15 hamburgers and massive layoffs if they are forced to pay workers a living wage. When corporate executives give themselves million dollar bonuses, no one in the media wrings their hands and alleges that prices will go up—but we hear that far too often when low-income workers simply demand a living wage.
But a recent study found that a $15 minimum wage could be fully absorbed by the restaurants, without resorting to job cuts, while another study found that it would only raise the price of a Big Mac a grand total of 17 cents. More than 600 economists agree that past increases in the minimum wage have had little-to-no negative effect on employment among minimum wage workers.
What numerous studies have shown is a large positive impact on local economies. When workers have more money in their pockets, they have more money to spend at local businesses. And when workers are paid fairly, businesses have less employee turnover and increase their productivity.
I urge everyone in Washington to listen to the voices of the hundreds of thousands of workers taking action this week around the country, demanding fair pay for their labor. Americans who work hard to support their families should not be forced to live in poverty.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic U.S. senator who represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.