In a far-ranging speech that covered everything from climate change to AIDS, President Obama presented a few proposals that are particularly important for women: Implementing universal preschool, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, and raising the minium wage. As Bryce Covert notes, all three of these policies would help combat the gender pay gap, since “balancing children and work, making the minimum wage, and being forced into secrecy about paychecks” are all huge factors.
Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour would affect approximately 21 million workers. About two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and they are disproportionately women of color. At the current rate–which is lower than it was a few decades ago and hasn’t changed at all in the last three years–a minimum wage worker makes $14,500 a year. That isn’t enough to afford rent in any state in the country.
In fact, $9 per hour still only gets you a woefully inadequate $18,720 per year. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would now be over $10.60. The fast-food workers who recently went on strike in NYC are calling for $15. A recent study by Demos suggested that the minimum salary for retail jobs at companies like Walmart should be $25,000 a year. ETA: And if it were pegged to productivity increases, it would be $21.72 per hour.
Of course, Speaker Boehner has already rejected the hike, claiming–contrary to the claims of most economists–that it would increase unemployment. Rep. Paul Ryan articulates to conservative logic: “The goal ought to be is to get people out of entry level jobs into better jobs, better paying jobs. That’s better education and a growing economy.”
This is such bullshit. Sure, education is great in-and-of itself. And it is indeed a travesty–though one that Republicans resolutely refuse to address–that the promise of economic mobility this country espouses is actually a joke. But no matter how many people are “pulled out of poverty”–whether by their own bootstraps or the silver bullet of education or whatever–there will still be low-wage jobs that need to be done.
We need service workers, and domestic workers, and farm laborers. And they need a wage they can live–not barely survive–on. As President Obama said, “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” That shouldn’t be a radical idea.