The $2 Pinch: Voting for Economic Security this Election
In 1970, the federal minimum wage rate was $1.60 per hour, which is about $9.61 in today’s dollars. Today, in 2014, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. After nearly half a century our country now snatches over two dollars every hour–$2.36 to be exact–from the pockets of its workers because of its refusal to raise the minimum wage to keep pace with reality. How can we take pride in being a country rooted in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if we are failing at ensuring access to a livable income? On November 4, voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota have the opportunity to do what Congress has not– raise the minimum wage. If you are a resident of those states, I urge YOU vote to increase the minimum wage.
LGBTQ people, women, and people of color make up a substantial portion of minimum wage workers, and their economic security would greatly benefit if the wage is increased. About 33% of LGBTQ individuals identify as people of color, and people of color represent 42% of minimum wage earners. If the minimum wage was increased, 60% of the people that would cross the poverty threshold would be people of color. Additionally, the increase would drastically improve the lives of transgender people, who are four times more likely than the general public to be living in extreme poverty while earning less than $10,000 per year.
We also still live in a time where women – including LGBTQ women –are only paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Inequalities like this, which are not specifically LGBTQ targeted, still affect the community, and furthermore 24% of lesbian and bisexual women live in poverty. It is imperative for the LGBTQ community to support progressive policies that address these inequalities and move us towards a more just society.
Even if you are not part of the demographics most affected by the minimum wage, the wages of America’s lowest paid workers affect you. Those living with privilege, whether race, class, gender, or orientation, should care. If the working class can earn a livable wage it increases their spending power while boosting economic security and growth. Economic growth as a result of increased minimum wage rates, creates greater business confidence, improves workplace morale, decreases employee turnover, and reduces training costs. Essentially, increasing the minimum wage would be better, not just for the working class, but for every class. Economic growth is a concept that everyone can benefit from, including the CEO of a major corporation.
Another important slice in the pie of economic justice is worker’s access to paid sick leave. Should a parent really have to lose a whole day’s pay because he stayed home with their sick child? Who is to blame for the child’s illness? Certainly not the parent, yet employers all over the country continue to punish them and other workers in this position. If employees had guaranteed paid leave days, the workforce would experience increased efficiency and allegiance rather than lower productivity and an increased risk of spreading illnesses.
In addition to the ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, and the advisory referendum on the ballot in Illinois, there is a ballot measure in Massachusetts that would provide all workers the chance to earn sick paid sick leave. Who knows, maybe the next jurisdiction to raise the wage will compel neighboring localities to do the same. At the very least, voting to raise the wage for your friends, neighbors, children, parents, or employees will help prevent another two dollar pinch from their pockets for the duration of the next half century.
by Trevoria Jackson, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow