Minimum-wage hike falls short

Since 1997, it has been $5.15 an hour.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Published June 21, 2006 6:55PM (EDT)

A Democratic proposal that would have raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour by Jan. 1, 2009, failed in the Senate today. While a majority of senators -- 52 -- backed the proposal, it did not get the 60 votes needed to pass. The vote came the day after Republicans in the House defeated a Democratic-led effort to force a vote on the minimum wage. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said he'd like to hold off a debate on the topic until after the November election. "This is a classic debate between two different philosophies," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. "One philosophy believes in the marketplace, competition and entrepreneurship, and the second is a philosophy that says government knows best."

"The federal wage has been fixed at $5.15 an hour since 1997," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The average family income of those on minimum wage is $45,580, according to the Employment Policies Institute, a research organization. During the same period, congressional salaries have increased from $133,600 to $165,200 a year." Maybe Sen. Isakson, who has been a member of Congress since 1999, would like to return his own salary increase to the taxpayers in the name of the marketplace, competition and entrepreneurship.

Update: Many War Room letter writers point out that the $45,580 stat from the Employment Policies Institute, a think tank that advocates that the minimum wage not be raised, sounds fishy. Here's how the group defends the number: "U.S. Census Bureau data reveals that 85% of employees whose wages would be increased by the proposed minimum wage hike either live with their parents or another relative, live alone, or have a working spouse. Just 15% are sole earners in families with children, and each of these sole earners has access to supplemental income through the Earned Income Tax Credit."

Here's perhaps a more relevant figure: The annual gross income of a minimum-wage worker who works 40 hours per week is just $10,712. Also, the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that advocates for increasing the minimum wage, calculates that the buying power of the minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, is now at its lowest level since 1955.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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