Friday, March 10, 2006

Congress Gives Itself Hefty Pay Hikes While Refusing To Increase Minimum Wage


For the past nine years, Congress has declined to raise the minimum wage, which is $5.15/hour. During that same period, Congress has voted to give itself one fat pay raise after another.

In 1997, members of Congress made $133,600/year. Today, their pay is $165,200/year, (which includes a generous $3,100 pay hike that members of Congress awarded themselves last year).

With the U.S. government facing a record budget deficit of over $8 trillion, it's disturbing that Congress is so generous with our tax dollars in giving itself raises. Surely, members of Congress aren't deluding themselves into believing that the American public approves of their job performance. In fact, polls show that the public has a dismal opinion of the way Congress is performing its job these days.

The most recent congressional pay hike comes on top of numerous other hefty pay hikes Congress has awarded itself in recent years. For example, in 2003, Congress voted to give itself a pay hike of $4,700. In 2002, the pay hike was $4,900. In 2001, it was $3,800. In 2000, it was $4,600. And on and on.

By refusing to increase the nation's Scrooge-like minimum wage, Congress is in effect annually cutting the wages of the millions of workers who struggle to get by on $5.15 an hour. Raising the minimum wage to $7.00 an hour would benefit 7.4 million workers directly, and another 8.2 million workers indirectly, according to a report on Almanac of Policy Issues.

Minimum wage isn't the only area in which Congress has been Scrooge-like. For example, the House has voted to cut health care and benefit programs for our nation's veterans by $85 billion. Clearly, members of Congress believe Americans need to tighten their belts---our lawmakers just don't want to share in the sacrifice themselves.

In real terms, America's current minimum wage is worth less than ever. Think Progress has pointed out that if the minimum wage today was worth what it was worth in 1968 (its peak value), it would be $8.88 an hour.

Nor are only minimum wage earners taking it on the chin in today's economy. In 2005, real wages for all the nation's civilian workers declined 2.3 percent, the largest such loss since 1981.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) recently introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over two years. To add your voice to a petition supporting this effort, go here.


Anonymous said...

Interesting story, but it leaves out a major part of Congressmen's compensation: their wildly extravagent pension plans, which are vastly more generous than anything that exists in the private sector. Congressmen's health plans are also extremely generous and high quality and vastly superior to anything than John Q. Public has.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of wasting taxpayer money, when Bush was re-elected he had one of the most lavish, expensive inaugurations in our nation's history. In the past, during war-time, previous Presidents always chose to have a low-key, somber inauguration. Bush broke precendent on this (just as he broke precedent on cutting taxes during war-time). It's a shame---that money could have been used for other urgent things, (like buying body armor for our troops in Iraq).

Anonymous said...

I've read that real, constant wages for all workers (excluding CEOs') has declined since 1980. And yet today, U.S. workers are working longer hours than at any time since the 1920s. I know people juggling two and three jobs who still can't pay all their bills. Is this sustainable?