The proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 was blocked in the Senate yesterday. The 54-42 vote came in spite of much public support for the legislation. As is too common for Congress, biting partisanship superseded the responsibility to serve the American people. Attempts at compromise were dead on arrival. Because of the games Republicans are playing, minimum-wage workers will continue to suffer.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama declared 2014 the “year of action.” Republicans who are combatative against any new policy originating in the White House have yet again derailed Obama’s efforts. Now that passing legislation has all but stalled, states have begun enacting their own minimum-wage increases to bypass the vocal minority in Congress. Unsurprisingly, 21 states and Washington, D.C., now have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum wage. The short-sighted actions of Republicans are being, for the most part, ignored by state politicians who are reacting to voter demands for higher wages.
Republican senators failed to act in a way that best serves the citizens who elected them by preventing the bill from passing through the Senate, instead prioritizing the perpetuation of party antagonism. Although workers receiving minimum wage disproportionately come from the South, the region largely represented by right-wing politicians, Republicans are the ones preventing the bill’s passage. Republican opposition against the bill rests upon the argument that raising the minimum wage will cut 500,000 jobs. While this is likely true, a 40-hour-per-week worker paid at the federal minimum earns about $15,000 a year, an amount nearly impossible to live on. The job loss numbers seem inconsequential when considering the improvement in quality of life that a wage increase would provide.
The majority of the nation supports raising the federal minimum wage, and countless economists and Nobel Prize winners agree. But, it does not take a Nobel Prize winner to realize that the real minimum wage should not be decreasing when the labor force’s skills are increasing. The minimum wage in 1968 was $10.34 in 2012 dollars, a far cry from the current $7.25. Raising the wage rate to keep up with inflation is the least the federal government can do to help the working class afford constantly rising living costs.
Obama’s dedication to the cause of raising the national minimum wage cannot change the situation as long as the parties oppose each other on principle. The battle over the minimum wage has persisted for decades and will likely not reach a conclusion that satisfies both parties. Politics involves compromise and, at some point, Republicans must realize this. Now is the time to set aside party affiliations to work in favor of the American people.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, May 1 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]
Illustration by Jourdan Enriquez.