An American worker who works at the current federal minimum wage – $5.15/ hour – for forty hours a week for fifty-two weeks, without interruption, would make $10,712.
The 2006 federal poverty line for the continental United States for a two-person family is $13,200 a year.
That means a family of one child and one parent who works full-time at the federal minimum wage is living at least $2,500 below the poverty line.
The reality faced by the working poor in America is somewhat different. People struggle to find consistent full-time work. People take multiple jobs adding up to well over forty hours without receiving the benefits of full-time work from any of them. People get sick.
A decade ago, conservatives in Congress – with a good many ostensible liberals in tow – inflicted a harsh revision of the American social contract, tearing away the safety net from those who utilized its support for more than three or five years of their lives – even if they were using that time to gain the skills for a better shot at living-wage work. Under the regime of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the uncompromising message sent to every low-income woman and man in this country by our congress is that your first and immediate responsibility is to find a way into the minimum-wage workforce.
But the same leaders who have most loudly pushed that message on marginalized Americans have fought fiercely against either requiring that work pay by raising the minimum wage or facilitating workers’ freedom to demand that work pay by protecting their organizing rights.
This week, some of them floated an insulting proposal – intended to fail – which would ease the minimum wage higher for some workers while both leaving tipped workers out to dry and depleting the federal government’s resources for empowering working Americans by lavishing cash on this country’s wealthiest families.
We deserve better.