Fair Pay for Fair Work
Working and middle-class wages in America have been stagnant for decades, while worker productivity has skyrocketed. The federal minimum wage has not been raised in 10 years, and many people today have to work 2 or more jobs to keep themselves and their families from falling into poverty. It’s time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and expand economic opportunity for those whom our economy has left behind.
DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
For the roughly 30 years between 1948 and 1979, wages and worker productivity grew at essentially the same rate. But, since 1979, they have been diverging. Over the past 40 years, net worker productivity has increased by almost 70%, but hourly pay of typical workers increased by only about 11% (1). The trickle-down economic policies we have had in this country for the past 40 years have not worked, and they have essentially destroyed America’s middle class.
Since 1979, the income of the top 1 percent of earners in this country has increased by 226%, while the middle 60% of earners increased their average income by only 47% over the last 40 years (2). It’s clear that since the U.S. adopted an economic system based on the trickle-down theory, the income inequality here has absolutely exploded. These policies have not worked for average Americans, and it’s time we shifted the economic system in this country to help rebuild the middle class.
RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, and it has not been raised a single cent since 2009. While many states have approved a higher minimum wage than this, Utah is still at the federal minimum. In our state, in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage worker would need to work about 82 hours per week, 2 full-time jobs (3).
I support policies such as the “Raise the Wage Act”, introduced in the 116th Congress, which would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 over the course of about 8 years for everyone, including tipped employees. Doing so would have an enormous positive impact on our national economy, and would lift pay for about 40 million hard-working Americans (4).
There seems to be a stereotype that most minimum wage workers are teenagers, but that is demonstrably false. More than half of minimum wage workers are between the ages of 25 and 54, about 60% work full time, nearly half have some college experience, 28% have children, and the average minimum wage worker with a spouse and/or child provides about 52% of their family’s income (4).
In Utah’s 1st District, raising the minimum wage to $15 would affect 118,500 workers (36% of the workforce), would add about $350 million dollars into the economy from our district alone and would increase pay for the average minimum wage worker by about 15% annually. By raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, affected workers in our district would earn about $3,000 more every year. Imagine what an extra $3,000 per year could do for a fast-food worker struggling to afford rent, or a preschool teacher who just can’t keep up with their car payments (5).
Increasing the minimum wage would not only make a huge difference in the lives of the working class, but it would begin to heal decades of pay inequality. Since 1979, the failure to keep minimum wage in line with inflation has accounted for about 48% of the economic inequality in America. Paying minimum wage workers a living wage will go a long way in closing the wealth gap.
In addition, raising the minimum wage would have a positive impact on our communities and local economies. A $15 minimum wage would generate an extra $120 billion in wages over the full transition period. That money goes significantly further than if it were to be given in a tax cut to corporations or the wealthy. Instead of being used for stock buybacks or investments, it would be injected directly into the economy. The working class will be able to spend more money in the local, state, and national economies, spreading the benefits of their increased wage to their entire communities.
ADDRESSING THE PAY GAP
One of the key components of ensuring fair pay for fair work is closing the gender pay gap in America. In 2018, women in the United States earned 82% of what men did doing similar jobs. This gap has existed ever since women entered the workforce in large numbers, and it has never fully closed (6).
In our district, women earned 67 cents on the dollar of what men earned in 2018, and Utah overall ranks 46th in the nation for gender pay equality at an earnings ratio of 74% (6).
However, this isn’t just about gender. It’s also about race. Asian women earn 90% of what men do, white women earn 74%, black women earn 62%, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women earn 61%, Native American women earn 57%, and Hispanic women earn just 54% of what white men do (6). This is unconscionable, and we can’t just sit back and allow this system to stand.
There are many actions that Congress can and should take to fix this problem. Congress can pass legislation strengthening the Equal Pay Act of 1963, prohibit employers from seeking salary history when hiring, increasing the minimum requirement for paid family leave, requiring employers to provide equal pay for work of equivalent value, and more. As your representative, I will support any legislation which would address the pay gap.
Overall, there is so much that needs to be done to ensure fair pay for fair work in this country and begin to heal the giant wealth divide which exists. It may seem impossible, but when we stand up to the special interests and corporations, we can and will raise the minimum wage. We can and will lift millions of Americans out of poverty. We can and will close the pay gap. We can and will create a country where the American Dream is within reach for everyone.