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Pushed to the minimum

September 1, 2006 By    

The screaming newspaper headline landed like an angry kick to my stomach, and the story details left my heart broken.

For the second time in three years, my hometown of Cleveland was identified as the poorest big city in America based on data released by the U.S. Census Bureau just a week before our nation paused to celebrate Labor Day.

In 2005, a third of the city’s residents and almost half of its children lived below the federal poverty level.

The city’s dubious place in the poverty ranking was matched by a rock-bottom finish in income. No other big city had a lower median household income than Cleveland’s $24,105. That’s slightly more than half the national average of $46,326, and represents a drop of $6,294 since 2000.

Nationwide, households made more money simply because they worked more. Median income increased by 1.1 percent from 2004 to 2005, but analysts say that’s only because more women were in the workforce than ever before. Wages for men fell 1.8 percent to $41,386, while women’s earnings dropped 1.3 percent to $31,858.

Obviously, there are lots of reasons and no simple solutions to the dire situation gripping communities like Cleveland.

Ten years after welfare reform pushed millions into the nation’s workforce, many of Cleveland’s poor work full time but are stuck below the poverty line. Minimum-wage employees working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earn just $10,700. That’s almost $6,000 below the federal poverty mark of $16,600 for a family of three.

What are the odds of that customer paying his propane bill on time?

Working people need to earn a wage that provides them the disposable income needed to buy goods and services that the business community produces. That’s not possible at the $5.15 rate in place since 1997.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

Federal legislation has been introduced to raise the wage to $6.75 in a year and $7.25 in two years. That would put another $4,400 a year in the pockets of more than 6 million minimum wage earners nationwide.

Surprisingly, a survey of small-business owners this year conducted by the Gallup Organization for Wells Fargo shows that nearly half favor a boost in the minimum wage. Three-quarters say a 10 percent hike in the rate would have no effect on them, and just 14 percent of those who are considering hiring new employees say they would start them at minimum wage.

In the nine years since minimum wage workers last saw a hike in pay, gasoline alone has gone up almost two bucks a gallon. It’s time our clerks, cashiers, waitresses, bank tellers, receptionists and laborers got the same consideration. They’ve earned it.

Patrick Hyland

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