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Should the federal minimum wage be raised?

Seventeen states have set their minimum wages higher than the federal rate of $5.15 an hour. Congress is now debating a boost.

The wages we pay our workers are a reflection of what we value as a nation. Americans value hard work. We believe that people who work should be able to build a better life for their families. But today, too many Americans are working hard only to stay poor.

It's been more than nine years since Congress last raised the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. Today, a minimum-wage worker who works 40 hours a week makes about $10,700 a year. That's way below the poverty line for a family.

Prices for essentials such as gasoline and health care are rising dramatically, but these workers are falling farther behind. Minimum-wage employees earn so little that they can't afford adequate housing in most parts of the country, and must often rely on food banks and charities just to put food on the table.

I have introduced a bill in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three steps over the next two years. The increase would benefit more than 15 million Americans, including the parents of more than 7 million children.

Minimum-wage workers do many of the most difficult, and most important, jobs in our society. They take care of children in day-care centers and the elderly in nursing homes. They clean office buildings, hotel rooms, and restaurants across the country.

These hard-working men and women deserve fair pay for their work. In the wealthiest nation in the world, no one who works for a living should have to live in poverty.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Democrat of Massachusetts

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's a law of physics, but it applies to economics. Every increase in the minimum wage raises the overall costs of small-business owners, and they must react in order to stay in business.

If faced with a minimum-wage hike, most independent business owners say they would respond by cutting workers' hours, reducing the number of employees, and leaving jobs vacant.

This is because it's not always possible for small businesses to pass on increased costs to their customers by raising prices. As a result, raising the minimum wage often ends up hurting, rather than helping, the workers. That's bad news for teens looking to enter the job market.

But our objection is also philosophical. Small-business owners believe passionately that the free-market system, which includes the freedom to operate their businesses without undue government interference, is the best way to encourage economic growth and job creation.

When business owners have the freedom to make investment decisions, including investing in employees, they can decide when and how to add jobs, knowing that to hire good people, they must pay them what the market demands. (In some parts of the country, businesses are already paying more than the minimum wage because that's what the local markets demand.)

We've learned that in the end, a higher minimum wage leads to fewer job opportunities, and that's not good for anyone.

Todd Stottlemyer
National Federation of Independent Business