You know the $7.25 per hour minimum wage is inadequate when Walmart begins voluntarily raising its workers’ pay. The retail giant and several competitors, including Target and TJ Maxx, said recently they would raise the compensation of their lowest-paid employees to $9 an hour.
Last week, McDonald’s announced it would raise wages to $1 above the minimum, but only at the 10 percent or so of its U.S. stores that the company owns. Franchised outlets aren’t affected.
These welcome changes will improve the lives of millions of Americans, including many in the Pittsburgh region. It will also put pressure on other private employers to boost their workers’ pay.
But these raises won’t help most minimum-wage earners, who make as little as $15,000 a year working full time. Federal and state lawmakers should require employers to pay workers enough to live on — not wait for them to do so voluntarily.
President Barack Obama has rightly proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That would raise full-time workers’ pay to more than $21,000 a year, enough to reduce or eliminate their dependence on taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
The federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009. In real dollars, its value has fallen dramatically over the past 50 years. Today’s minimum would need to be nearly $11 an hour to match its buying power in the 1960s, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Congress should increase the minimum promptly. Until lawmakers get serious, low-paid workers will continue to be at the mercy of big businesses that agree to raise wages modestly, if at all, and only after years of criticism and protests. It shouldn’t have to be that way.