Minimum Wage Breaks No-Raise Record

By Sklar, Holly | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 1, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Minimum Wage Breaks No-Raise Record

Sklar, Holly, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Every year, PNC Wealth Management calculates the "Christmas Price Index" based on gifts in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." PNC reports, "Maids-a-Milking, who are paid the minimum wage, were the only service providers not to see an increase this year."

The Christmas Price Index rose from $13,344 in 1997 to $18,920 in 2006. The price of Six Geese-a-Laying increased from $150 to $300, for example. But the cost of Eight Maids-a-Milking remained $41.20 - - pegged to the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour since Sept. 1, 1997.

On Dec. 2, we broke the record for the longest period without an increase in the minimum wage since it was established in 1938. The prior record of nine years and three months lasted from Jan. 1, 1981, until the minimum wage hike on April 1, 1990.

Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of President Reagan's first Council of Economic Advisers, has acknowledged they wanted to eliminate the minimum wage. But as The Wall Street Journal reported, "Because that would have been such a 'painful political process,' Mr. Weidenbaum says that he and other officials were content to let inflation turn the minimum wage into 'an effective dead letter.'"

Today's minimum wage is worth less than the 1950 minimum ($6.28 in today's money), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. It takes nearly two workers to match the $9.28 buying power of one minimum wage worker in 1968.

A full-time worker at minimum wage makes just $10,712 a year -- less than $900 a month to cover housing, food, health care, transportation and other expenses. Today, family health coverage costs more than a minimum wage worker's entire annual income.

The minimum wage sets the wage floor. As the floor has sunk below poverty levels, millions of workers find themselves with paychecks above the minimum, but not above poverty wages.

The share of national income going to wages and salaries is at the lowest level since 1929 while the share going to after-tax corporate profits is at the highest. Since 1997, domestic corporate profits have risen 72 percent while the minimum wage has fallen 20 percent, adjusted for inflation. Looking back to 1968, domestic corporate profits have climbed 214 percent while the minimum wage plummeted 44 percent.

CEOs have enriched themselves and their families for generations to come while workers struggle to support themselves and their children.

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