By MARC McDONALD
For the past 10 years, Congress has stubbornly refused to raise the minimum wage, which is $5.15/hour. During this same period, Congress has voted to give itself one fat pay raise after another. This week, the GOP-led Congress awarded itself another generous raise----this time for $3,300 (which brings lawmakers' annual salaries to $168,500/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.