You have the right to food.
You have the right to shelter.
You have the right to water.
You have the right to transportation.
You have the right to education.
You have the right to health care.
You have the right to have lights in your home.
You have the right to have heat in your home in the winter.
You have the right to have air conditioning in your home the summer.
You have the right to a fair wage so that you can pay for the above.
These are not the United States Bill of Rights but these are all things that have become associated with the American Dream. The American Dream is an ideology intrinsically linked with the belief that in the United States people are guaranteed a quality of life that equates to comfort and opportunity. However, very few people really sit back and reflect on what the economic cost of this comfort and opportunity is and whether or not this cost is one that they will ever be able to afford. After years of living with a bad economy, more and more Americans are horrifyingly being forced to accept that for them the answer is no.
The United States determines the official poverty rate using poverty thresholds that are issued each year by the Census Bureau. The thresholds represent the annual amount of cash income minimally required to support families of various sizes. Shockingly, for a family of four the poverty threshold was set at $22,314 at the time of the 2010 Census. Sadly, there are 17.4 percent of North Carolinians living below this amount and there are, even worse, 728,842 North Carolinians live in deep poverty. Those who live in deep poverty are those who live below the threshold of $11,100 for a family of four. The deep poverty rate for North Carolina is 7.8 percent, a full percentage point above the national rate and only 9 states have deep poverty rates that are higher.
With the upcoming Presidential election in four months, two of the questions on everyone’s mind are who can solve this dilemma and what is the best way to do it. One of the most heavily debated measures suggested is raising the minimum wage.
The fastest-growing employment sector is the service industry and it is predominantly filled with low-wage jobs that typically pay at or below minimum wage. These workers include tipped workers whose federal minimum wage has been a meager $2.13 since 1991. Results of the 2011 Population Survey (CPS), conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), show that 73.9 million American workers age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing a hulking 59.1 percent of all wage and salary workers in America. Among those paid by the hour, 1.7 million earned exactly the prevailing Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and about 2.2 million had wages below the minimum.
Tuesday, July 24th, marked the three-year anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage. Over the past three years, the cost of living in America has rapidly increased while the minimum wage has stayed stuck at $7.25 an hour, which amounts to a scant $15,080 a year. As a matter of fact, the cost of basics like gas and milk have increased so much over these past three years that the real value of the minimum wage has sunk to a miniscule $6.77 per hour.
Many advocates say the only way to solve the problem of rising cost is to raise the federal minimum way. The Campaign for America’s Future has joined with SEIU, National Employment Law Project, CREDO, USAction, MomsRising, and other groups to mobilize the public and pressure Congress to get behind the The Fair Minimum Wage Act, written by Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller. The Fair Minimum Wage Act, H.R. 6211, would increase the minimum wage by 85 cents a year for the next three years. After it reached the final $9.80, the wage would be set to rise with inflation. The bill would also increase the minimum wage for waiters and other tipped employees by 85 cents a year until it reached 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.
The Harkin-Miller bill is pretty simple:
1. Raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $9.80/hour.
2. Index the minimum wage to inflation so it never loses value again.
Americans may not have the right to things like food, shelter, and water built into the Bill of Rights but they are things that are essential elements to living the American Dream. Making this dream a reality once again is going to require bold action and it’s going to be up to the vote of this year’s Presidential election to determine if America will have the leadership required to give the 3.8 million Americans who earn at or below minimum wage the economic security they need to live the American Dream.
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