Today's minimum wage: not fit for human beings
Published May 4, 2005 5:13 PM
Every week nearly $150 is stolen from each
minimum wage worker in the United States.
An hourly wage of $8.89 is
needed to match the purchasing power of 1968’s minimum wage of $1.60,
according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics “Inflation
But the current federal minimum wage is
only $5.15 per hour. An additional $3.74 is stolen from minimum wage workers
every hour. That’s a 42-percent wage cut as compared to the 1968 minimum
The BLS cost of living figures usually understate the rise in prices
of essential commodities purchased by poor people. One out of four families in
New York City fork over half their income to their landlord. (Enterprise
Over a year of 52 40-hour work weeks, this extortion produces
an additional profit of $7,779.20 for the bosses from every one of these minimum
wage workers. Two million people were paid at or below $5.15 per hour in 2004.
That means over $15 billion was ripped-off by the bosses.
But the total
amount of loot was much, much larger. Over 28 million workers last year earned
less than $9.04 per hour. One out of three African American workers and 25
percent of all workers get these miserable wages. (Business Week)
freedom and a living wage
Harlem Congressperson Adam Clayton Powell
Jr. fought for years to raise the minimum wage and make it cover more categories
of workers when he chaired the Labor and Education Committee of the House of
Representatives in the 1960s. The 1968 rate of $1.60 per hour was achieved only
against a backdrop of the civil rights movement and urban cities burning in
Powell’s fight for a higher minimum wage
was sufficient cause alone for the wealthy ruling class—assisted by the
conservative AFL-CIO President George Meany—to drive Powell out of
congress. This is just one reason why poor and working people cherish the memory
A. Philip Randolph—founder of the Brotherhood of
Sleeping Car Porters (which also had women members)—demanded a $2 minimum
wage back in 1960. Using the BLS “Inflation Calcu lator,” this
amounts to a $13.06 per hour wage in 2005.
Bayard Rustin, raised this $2 minimum wage demand at the 1963 Washington March
for Jobs and Freedom.
Considering the fantastic increase of labor
productivity during the last 45 years—labor productivity in private
business has increased nearly five-fold according to the BLS—a mere
2-percent annual increase in the real minimum wage is a truly modest demand. Add
this small yearly hike to Randolph’s 1960 request and you get a 2005
minimum wage of $66,224 per year. (Or $31.84 per hour over 52 40-hour work
Now with wages like these, it’s hard to conceive of drug
profiteer Eli Lilly paying its chief executive Sidney Taurel $12.5 million last
year—the collective wages of 1,167 minimum wage workers. Or Taurel’s
fellow drug lord—Merck’s CEO Raymond V. Gilmartin—getting $5.9
million in 2004. His salary equals the collective wages of 551 minimum wage
workers. (NY Times, April 3)
Millions of workers and their families would
benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. Side by side with organizing
Wal-Mart, the labor movement must demand a wage fit for human beings.
an $8.89 per hour—or $13.06 per hour—or $31.84 per hour minimum wage
an impossible demand? Vince Copeland, a founding member of Workers World Party,
said, “If the people need something and are willing to fight for it,
nothing is impossible.”
The writer is an Amtrak worker and member
of District 1402, Transportation Communications International Union.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE