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Counting the Cost

The minimum wage for the least and left out

Julianne Malveaux | 6/26/2013, 7:29 p.m.

Someone who earns the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns about $15,000 a year. If they are an hourly worker without benefits who takes any time off, the $15,000 earnings drops off. While many minimum wage workers are part-time, some cobble together several part-time jobs to make enough money to live.

For full-time workers, parents, and others, the minimum wage is hardly a living wage. President Barack Obama has suggested raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour over a three-year period, taking the annual minimum wage for a full-time worker to almost $19,000 a year. This proposal, the Federal Minimum Wage Act, would increase hourly wages to $10.10 by 2015, making annual pay about $21,000 by that year. It would also index the minimum wage to inflation. The feisty and fantastic new senator from Massachusetts, lawyer Elizabeth Warren, has indicated that she considers $22 an hour (or about $45,000 a year) a living wage.

About 2 million people earn the minimum wage, and another 1.6 million actually earn less. These are the people recorded, not the actuality of those paid under the table. This represents less than 5 percent of the work force, but this is why we should pay attention to them. African Americans, Latinos, and women are most likely to be represented in this 3.6 million. They are more likely to be young (although those 18-25 are adult and may be raising families), less educated and single. They are the least and the left out. They are young women raising families, students trying to scrap together living expenses, or those with qualifications, but not opportunities.

These folks work in service and hospitality industries, serving our food, parking our cars, taking care of our mamas, and cleaning our rooms when we stay in hotels. I don’t care if they are 4.7 percent of the labor force, less or more. The bottom line is that it is over time to raise the minimum wage!

Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer.

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