Fair Play

Andrew Lustig recently wrote that for nine years the federal minimum wage has been frozen at $5.15 per hour (“Bare Minimum,” February 10). That means a minimum-wage worker fortunate enough to secure forty hours of work a week, fifty-two weeks a year, brings home an annual salary of just $10,712. In 2002, the most recent year for which we have data, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over one million adult workers twenty-five or older were trying to eke out a living on that federal minimum, or an even lower one applied to tipped employees. Despite growing public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, and a much-touted 1995 study, by Princeton economists David Card and Alan Krueger, suggesting that raising the wage floor certainly does not cut jobs and may even create them, the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress has successfully thwarted every legislative attempt to bring the federal minimum wage into the twenty-first century.

In the past nine years, there has been a steady erosion of the dollar’s buying power, with drastic consequences for the working poor. In the late 1960s, a full-time minimum-wage job pulled a family of three out of poverty. By the late 1990s, a minimum-wage income left the same family nearly 20 percent short of the poverty line. Today, a minimum-wage worker supporting two dependents brings home only two-thirds of the income necessary to surpass the...

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About the Author

Clayton Sinyai is the political director of Laborers Local 11 in Alexandria, Virginia, and the author of Schools of Democracy (Cornell). He can be reached at csinyai@malaborers.org.