Business news from the Fredericksburg region.
Webb backs federal minimum wage bill
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
When Sen. Jim Webb entered the Senate in 2007, one of the first bills he backed raised the federal minimum wage.
Now, with less than six months to go before his retirement, Webb is pushing the issue again.
This week he signed on to co-sponsor another bill to raise the federal minimum wage, this time to $9.80 an hour over two years.
The minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, where it’s been since 2009. That rate was set in the 2007 bill, which at the time was the first increase in the federal minimum wage in a decade. In 2007, the federal minimum wage was $5.85 an hour.
This year’s bill, filed just days ago by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, would also index the minimum wage to inflation, so that it would increase as the cost of living goes up.
“Lower income workers continue to get squeezed by stagnant wages and rising cost of living,” Webb said in a statement announcing his support for Harkin’s bill.
“In the age of globalization and outsourcing, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. While corporate profits are at an all-time high, wages and salaries are at an all-time low as a percentage of GDP. Raising the minimum wage is an important step toward addressing this disparity.”
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 3.8 million American workers earned the federal minimum wage or less (the minimum wage law contains various exemptions, and tipped workers, like restaurant servers, don’t earn the minimum. Tipped workers earn $2.13 an hour plus tips, a rate that hasn’t been changed since 1991).
A full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage makes about $15,080 a year. That’s about the 2012 poverty level for a two-person family, and below the poverty level for larger families.
States can set their own minimum wage levels, although they can’t set them below the federal level. Twenty-three states, including Virginia, have the same minimum wage as the federal level. Nineteen states have rates above the federal minimum wage.
Business groups often oppose increases in the minimum wage, since raising the amount they must pay workers increases their costs. In 2007, for example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill that raised the minimum wage, saying it would disproportionately hurt small businesses by increasing their labor costs.
Those groups say raising the minimum wage hurts jobs, since small businesses are less likely to hire when it costs more to pay workers.
Others—including different business groups, like the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce—argue that raising the minimum wage helps the economy by putting more money into consumers’ pockets.
A recent report from the National Employment Law Project, which works to raise minimum wages at the federal and local levels, says that 66 percent of minimum wage workers work for companies with more than 100 employees.
The same group backs tying the minimum wage to inflation, saying that the wage from 1968 would now be worth about $10 an hour in today’s dollars.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028