Today is Labor Day, which is set aside to honor the toil and skill of the American worker. More than a parade, more than a picnic, if there’s one thing many American workers want today it’s a raise.
CEOs and even average employees of profitable companies receive regular raises, as sure as January follows December. But higher pay is not in the cards for the 3.3 million U.S. workers who are paid the minimum wage.
The $7.25-an-hour pay rate has not changed since 2009. To have the same buying power, the wage should have grown to $8.05 by now. If the minimum had been adjusted for inflation over the past four decades, it would be more than $10 an hour today.
That’s one reason Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama were pushing legislation several months ago to raise the minimum wage over two years to $10.10 an hour, then index it to inflation. But Republicans blocked consideration of the plan and now the proposal appears to be dead.
That’s a shame for workers who make minimum wage, half of whom are between the ages of 25 and 65, and an embarrassment for the United States, which stacks up poorly in a minimum wage comparison with other developed nations.
Using 2012 data, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that the U.S. minimum wage ranked 26th out of 27 countries when measured as a percentage of the average wage in each country. Australia, Canada and Great Britain were among those that ranked ahead of the United States, as did Japan, South Korea, Poland and Slovakia. Only Mexico’s wage was worse.
This indignity could be corrected merely by passing a bill to increase the minimum wage. Improving the lot of other Americans — those who have lost family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to foreign competition, for instance — will require greater efforts, such as a revamped trade policy.
For now, though, Congress can best honor the minimum-wage worker with a simple raise.