Fight poverty by raising the minimum wage

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 16 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:10 am in
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By Dave O’Brien

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Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon Johnson delivered his State of the Union address, declaring “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Johnson continued, “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.” President Johnson was right, and while we have made great progress in this fight since 1964, there is more to do.

One of the most immediate and concrete solutions to fighting poverty in America today is to raise the minimum wage, a measure that has overwhelming support from the public but is being blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives. The Fair Minimum Wage Act, which has been championed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would raise the minimum wage for the first time in four years and tie it to inflation so that the well-being of American workers is no longer a political fight.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as Harkin’s legislation does, would have a profound impact on millions of Americans; 30 million workers would see their pay increase and, according to a recent study, nearly 5 million Americans would be lifted out of poverty. With so many reasons to say yes to this bill, how can Republicans continue to block so much as a vote on it?

The truth is, the real value of today’s $7.25 minimum wage is worth less today than it was around the time President Johnson declared the War on Poverty. Today, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, nearly a quarter of all workers in America make less per hour than the minimum wage was worth in 1968.

Now is the time to take action. Our economic recovery depends on it and millions of American workers and their families depend on it.

As Congress begins 2014, senators and representatives should remember the promise Johnson made fifty years ago and recommit themselves to fighting poverty in America. Raising the minimum wage is the first step to continuing this legacy, and it’s time for Republicans in Congress to get on board.

Dave O’Brien, a Cedar Rapids Attorney, is a Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 1st District congressional seat. Comments: dave@obrienforiowa.com

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