Americans want the minimum wage raised: Why doesn’t Congress?

Could you survive on $7.25 an hour? Photo: Fast food workers strike at N.Y. City McDonald's, depending wages be supersized AP photo

WASHINGTON, August 12, 2013 — The next time you drive through a MCDonald’s drive-through window, look more closely at the person handing you your fries. How old do you think she is? You’re probably wrong.

Most people working in those minimum wage, fast-food jobs are not teenagers, making some extra cash for clothes or CDs. They are young adults between 20 and 34, trying to support themselves. And if they are earning the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour that means, if they’re lucky, they earn $290 a week.

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That’s because the way most fast food places schedule their employees, they never earn even that much, and trying to have a second job is nearly impossible because their schedules shift from week to week.

Fast food workers strike outside of Church’s Chicken in MIchigan AP photo



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Yet the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since July 2009 leading to the question of whether you could you live on $290 a week or less that $1200 a month? That comes to approximately $14,500 a year, which is why the latest Rasmussen survey found that 77 percent of Americans recognize that the minimum wage is not enough to live on and should be raised, perhaps tied to inflation.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since it was enacted 40 years ago it would be $10.74.

The next time you stay at a Comfort Inn or a Hilton or a Four Seasons, look at the hotel’s employees, the ones that clean your room, carry your bags or serve you breakfast, not the ones behind the front desk. Half of workers in the hospitality industry make minimum wage or less, depending on tips to supplement their wages.

And again notice their ages. These are not teenagers. They are often in their mid-thirties to late fifties.

Now take another look at the people who work at Walmart, Kohl’s, Target, or Lowe’s. They are making more than the minimum wage, but not that much more. Kohl’s pays the lowest at $8.02 an hour and Home Depot tops out at $11.77. Wal-Mart pays its employees an average of $8.81, but that is still more than Target at $8.13 an hour.

So naturally the question that comes up again and again is, what do the CEOs of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart make?

According to Bloomberg News, Jim Skinner, the CEO of McDonald’s, earns $8.75 million a year. The average McDonald worker would have to flip burgers for a million hours (more than a 100 years on the job) to earn that kind of money.

Skinner’s biography shows that he began his work life at McDonalds as a manager trainee in 1971, but he, like so many who made it big, forgot his roots and has not raised salaries.

In fact, fast food companies are notorious for fighting any rise in the minimum wage even as their companies’ profits have increased 22 percent.

Then there is Wal-Mart’s CEO Mike Duke, who got a 14 percent raise in pay last year to $20.7 million. And that’s despite Wal-Mart’s rocky start in 2013 and internal, SEC and DOJ’s probe into  whether Wal-Mart officials in Mexico paid bribes to hasten the store’s expansion there.

Meanwhile, a Walmart store cashier, working full-time, would take nearly 800 years to earn Duke’s salary.

Recently Wal-Mart got into a kerfuffle with the Washington City Council when it wanted to build a Walmart there, bringing lots of jobs, but very low paying ones. They didn’t reckon with Mayor Vincent Gray and the city council holding the megastore to Washington’s rule of a living wage for their residents: $12.50 an hour.

The trend for states and cities to take matters into their own hands is becoming more common.

Ten states raised their minimum wages in 2013. Rhode Island gave the biggest increase, 35 cents. Other states were Oregon, Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Florida, Colorado, Vermont and Arizona.

But the average of these increases? About 15 cents.

Yet there is a bright spot: San Francisco and San Jose, both in California, pay the highest minimum wage, $10.55 and $10 respectively, and Washington state set the minimum wage at $9.19 an hour.

Will raising the minimum wage end poverty? No, but it improves lives and puts money back into the economy, which in turn helps companies and workers and even the unemployed to become employed as the demand for goods and services improve.

A group calling itself Fast Food Forward that battles for higher pay for those on the bottom rung of the income scale have come up with a slogan that sums up what the fight for an increase in the minimum wage is all about, one we should all adopt, not just those at McDonald’s and Walmart:

“We can’t survive on $7.25.”

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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