It should be simple: If you work hard, a job should lift you out of poverty, not trap you in it. Yet every day, millions of Americans work full-time jobs, but struggle to support their families due to low wages.
It is far past time for Congress to take up the Fair Minimum Wage Act, a bill that proposes to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Over 1.5 million workers, including 158,000 Nevadans, would be directly affected by this increase, and millions more would benefit indirectly from the boost. This raise is not only overdue, it is a common-sense proposal that would reduce poverty and begin to address the problem of flat and falling wages for the majority of the American workforce.
The failure to pay employees a livable minimum wage is bad for our communities and bad for our economy, which is why Nevadans voted to increase the state minimum wage and set it one dollar higher than the federal minimum wage back in 2006. Nevada was at the forefront of the issue; we took the necessary first step and showed our elected leaders that the minimum wage is not where it needs to be.
It has been five years since the last federal minimum wage increase. Even with the bump, the minimum wage was too low back then, and now it is far too low for 2014. If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be $10.86 – higher than the $8.25 we currently pay to minimum wage workers in Nevada.
While wages stagnate for low-wage and middle-class workers, the nation’s largest companies are earning higher profits per employee than they did five years ago. In Nevada, the average CEO made 146 times more than the average working Nevadan and 299 times more than a Nevadan earning minimum wage. Those numbers only grow when one accounts for illegal wage theft rampant throughout our community.
As our unemployment numbers lower and our economy recovers, income inequality should be decreasing — not growing exponentially — and yet for some of our elected leaders, that is simply not a priority. Instead of building on the progress and momentum to raise wages that Nevada voters built up nearly eight years ago, Sen. Dean Heller declared the minimum wage issue “solved” and Rep. Joe Heck has largely ignored efforts to raise wages for working people. As representatives of Nevada, Sen. Heller and Rep. Heck should be actively supporting what the majority of Nevadans, and the majority of Americans, are in favor of — a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.
Today’s ratio of CEO-to-worker pay and the unwillingness of some leaders in Congress to act is simply wrong. The American Dream should be within reach of everyone, not just those at the very top. Nevadans have shown we can lead the way on providing a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. Sen. Heller, Rep. Heck and Nevada businesses should show once again that to be “Battle Born” means to fight for what is right, and that means raising the minimum wage.
Danny L. Thompson is executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO.