Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage was established in 1938, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), to ensure that all work would be fairly rewarded and that regular employment would provide a decent quality of life. Congress makes periodic amendments to the FLSA to increase the federal minimum wage; however, since the 1960s, Congress has adjusted the federal minimum wage infrequently, enacting raises that have never been adequate to undo the erosion in the minimum wage’s value caused by inflation. This decline in purchasing power means low-wage workers have to work longer hours just to achieve the standard of living that was considered the bare minimum almost half a century ago. The decline in the value of the minimum wage has contributed to wage stagnation, and is directly responsible for widening inequality between low- and middle-wage workers.

In light of Congressional inaction, many states, cities, and counties have enacted their own higher minimum wages, with EARN groups providing the key research and analysis evaluating proposed minimum wage increases. In doing so, they are taking steps to help workers afford their basic needs, bring them closer to the middle class, and ensure that even the lowest-paid workers in their jurisdictions will benefit from broader improvements in wages and productivity.

Publications

Raising the Wage in Virginia Will Benefit Working Families

Everyone in Virginia working a full-time job should be paid enough to provide for their family. However, for many this is not the case. Nearly two-thirds of Virginia families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold have at least one adult who is working, yet they are paid too little to make ends meet. Virginia policymakers could raise the wages of working people in Virginia and help families across the commonwealth by raising Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, closing loopholes that currently exclude many Black and Latinx workers, and making sure Virginia’s wage laws are fairly enforced.

The federal minimum wage has eroded significantly since the late 1960s compared to the typical cost of living, median wages, and the economic productivity of working people. Virginia’s current minimum wage, set at $7.25 an hour to match the federal minimum, is the lowest in the country compared to the typical cost of living in the state, according to OxFam’s State of Working America report. The choice to maintain this inadequate minimum that leaves many families behind is a part of a pattern in Virginia of policymakers failing to act to protect working families and instead too often erecting barriers to success, particularly for working families of color. This erosion in the minimum wage has particularly harmed Black and Latinx working people. This is because working people of color in Virginia are more likely than white workers in Virginia to be stuck in low-wage occupations due to ongoing job discrimination, lack of educational opportunities, and other barriers that white people in Virginia are less likely to have faced.

State of Working Ohio 2019: Realities and Remedies

In many ways, Americans have been given a gift for the last decade – an economic expansion unprecedented in its length. And many of the indicators of the expansion are quite strong: Unemployment levels are very low, particularly for those with college degrees. The nation continues to add jobs each month, though Ohio cannot consistently say the same. And the economy is growing each quarter.

But by other measures, we are far behind previous economic peaks. At this point in the business cycle, labor market participation (the share of those either working or seeking work) should be higher than ever – it is instead lower than in all but one of the last 40 years. After so many years of growth, median wages should be at an all-time high – they are instead lower than they were in 1979, when workers were much less educated and our economy was much less productive. And at this point in the cycle, our elected officials should have used the boom years to be ready for the inevitable bust, by investing in essentials that benefit us all long term. Instead, nationally and in Ohio, policymakers have neglected critical needs, leaving us less equipped to face any looming downturn.

Beyond Kentucky’s low unemployment rate: How workers are really faring this Labor Day?

Op-Ed: “The longest economic recovery on record and a state unemployment rate of 4.3% sounds like a strong foundation for Kentuckians’ prosperity. But a close look at the numbers this Labor Day shows an economy in which many Kentucky communities still lack jobs, especially quality jobs families need to thrive.”

The State of Low-Wage Employment in Colorado

While Colorado’s economy has grown at a brisk pace since the Great Recession and hundreds of thousands of new jobs have been created, a significant amount of jobs in the state barely pay enough to let those who work them make ends meet. Since low-wage jobs make up more than 1/4 of all jobs statewide, it’s important to understand who the workers that fill them are and how those jobs affect the broader economy. This report, which updates previous CFI research from 2015 and 2017, shines a light on these questions and offers some insight into how Colorado compares with other states and the rest of the country as a whole.

With the Labor Day holiday right around the corner, and as Colorado’s statewide minimum wage is set to rise once again in January of 2020 – along with local governments gaining the power to increase their own minimum wage levels above the statewide minimum – policymakers and the public should use these findings as a guide to better understand how the minimum wage works in Colorado.