“In the wealthiest nation on Earth,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union speech, “no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”
Right! Not only does his call to raise America’s minimum wage put some real pop in populism, but it could finally start putting some ethics back in our country’s much-celebrated (but rarely honored) “work ethic.”
Kudos to Obama for putting good economics and good morals together — and for putting this long overdue increase on the front burner.
But then came the number: $9 an hour. Excuse me, Mr. President, but that means a person who “works full-time” would nonetheless “have to live in poverty.” Yes, nine bucks is a buck-seventy-five better than the current pay, but it’s still a poverty wage. It doesn’t even elevate the buying power of our wage floor back to where it was in 1968.
This isn’t merely about extending a badly needed helping hand to people struggling to work their way out of poverty, but about letting them give a jolt of new energy to our economy, which it desperately needs.
Ironically, the rich save and the poor spend. While super-rich corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in offshore accounts and refusing to invest in America, minimum-wage workers invest every extra dollar they get in America — spending it right where they live on clothing, food, health care and other basic needs.
A 2011 Federal Reserve study found that a one-dollar hike in the minimum wage produces an additional $2,800 a year in spending by each of those households. This is no time to shortchange these workers.
Yes, I know that GOP lawmakers and corporate lobbyists oppose even a $9 wage. But a poll last June found that seven out of 10 Americans (including a majority of Republicans), support raising the wage above $10 an hour. This is a time, Mr. President, to think big and listen to the grassroots.
Jim Hightower is a syndicated columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org