Pressure Mounts for Higher Federal Minimum Wage

Freddie Allen, Special to The Informer from NNPA | 4/9/2014, 3 p.m.
Civil rights groups, labor organizer and their allies are stepping up pressure on Congress to pass legislation raising the minimum ...
National Urban League CEO Marc Morial (at podium) pushed for higher minimum wages after meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill. Morial said the current wage structure was absent the respect for workers, families and children Franklin Roosevelt envisioned when establishing the minimum wage. (Freddie Allen/NNPA)

According to the AFL-CIO, "More than 2.2 million single moms would benefit from raising the minimum wage. One out of four of the workers who would benefit – and 31 percent of the women workers who would benefit – are parents with children."

Women often find work in low-wage industries as child care workers, home health aides, housekeepers and hair stylists.

"Women and women of color who are often single parents and who are often stuck in low-wage jobs are being hurt and that means that their children are being hurt and that is bad for our economic future as well as our social fabric, said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO. "We are short-changing our own future when we allow children to grow up in homes of poverty. It's a disgrace and it's something that the United States should not tolerate."

Even though blacks account for 11 percent of the labor force, they are more than 14 percent of low-wage workers. Whites account for 56.9 percent of low-wage workers.

The number of black workers affected by an increase in the minimum wage is even higher in some states, including Georgia and Louisiana where black workers account for more than 40 percent of low-wage workers. In Washington, D.C., blacks represent about 54 percent of low-wage workers.

The number of black low-wage workers is much greater than the national average in Mississippi (39.6 percent), South Carolina (37 percent) and Maryland (33 percent). A recent study by the AFL-CIO confirmed that 4,123,000 black workers would benefit if the federal minimum wage were increased to $10.10 per hour.

The growth in productivity coupled with relatively stagnant wages for most workers has contributed to economic inequality in America.

According to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute, "From 1973 to 2011, productivity increased by more than 80 percent, but the compensation of a typical production/nonsupervisory worker increased by less than 11 percent."

Black workers also live in poverty at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Black men accounted for 10.5 percent of workers living in poverty in 2011 compared to a 5.6 percent share of white men who lived in poverty. Black females accounted for nearly 16 percent of workers living in poverty in 2011, compared to white women who represent 6.7 percent of workers living in poverty.

Women, especially women of color, who are increasingly becoming the breadwinners for their families will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.

"Our research shows that 55 percent of those helped by a minimum wage increase are women and 25 percent would be women of color," said Gould.

Lee said that the workers and employers will benefit from raising the minimum wage, because the increase is targeted at people living on the edge, it doesn't cost taxpayers anything, and employers will save money by reducing turnover.

"You can tell a lot about a society by its policy and how it treats the least of these," said Nolan Rollins, the president and CEO of the Los Angeles affiliate of the National Urban League. "So, for an organization like ours that serves over two million people every year it becomes important for our legislators, not just to see us in our districts, but also here on Capitol Hill, really advocating for things that are going to make America better for the urban areas, for African Americans and other underserved populations."