In 1971, the minimum wage across the United States, as mandated by federal law, was $1.60.
Today, the federal minimum stands at $7.25.
One might look at those two numbers and think that because the minimum wage has increased by more than four-fold in the past 50 years, America’s lowest-paid workers are doing alright compared to their grandparents.
But the reality is far different.
In fact, had the federal minimum wage kept pace with workers’ productivity in the past five decades, the inflation-adjusted minimum wage would be $24 an hour.
The reality of the $7.25 minimum wage, which has been at that level since 2009, is that a person working a full-time job at the minimum wage officially falls below the national poverty level, a reality that would be laughably absurd if it were not so harmful to millions of Americans.
President Joe Biden has proposed increasing the minimum wage across the country to $15.00 by 2024, essentially bringing it into line with Massachusetts and a few other states that already are near or at that level. (The minimum wage in Massachusetts presently stands at $13.50 and will increase incrementally here and in seven other states to $15.00 within the next two years.)
Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would raise wages of up to 27.3 million workers — almost 20 percent of American workers — and lift 1.3 million families out of poverty, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.
Some on the political spectrum speak exultingly about the dignity of work.
But they ignore the other side of the equation, which is that it is below the dignity of anyone to work for wages that amount to not much better than slave labor.
The time has come to raise the minimum wage and yes, to Make America Great Again — for everybody.