Why we must raise the minimum wage for millions of Americans
© Getty Images

Today, full time work year-round at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour leaves an adult with two children earning thousands of dollars below the poverty threshold. That is unacceptable. No one who works full-time should live in poverty. But the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to even consider legislation to raise the minimum wage. 

You may think that when a majority of Congress and the president are from different political parties they could never work together to raise the minimum wage. But you would be wrong. Congress raised the minimum wage in 2007, when Democrats controlled Congress, and a Republican President, George W. Bush, signed it into law. The Fair Minimum Wage Act took us from $5.15 to $7.25.

ADVERTISEMENT

You may also think that it's a foregone conclusion that a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic President would never work together to raise wages, especially in an election year. But you would be wrong. Twenty years ago, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a Republican-controlled Congress passed an increase in the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15. The legislation was approved with significant bipartisan support; 160 House Republicans and 31 Republican senators – including the current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE – voted in favor of it. President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Impeachment can't wait Turley: Democrats offering passion over proof in Trump impeachment MORE signed it into law. All of this happened in the middle of a presidential election. What happened in 1996 can and should be replicated in 2016.

Many of the arguments made back then by our House and Senate colleagues in support of raising the minimum wage are again relevant today.

The real value of the federal minimum wage has eroded significantly, declining nearly 25 percent since 1968-- when the purchasing power of the minimum wage was at its highest. The Raise the Wage Act, introduced by Rep. Scott and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE of Washington State with the support of President Obama, would raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020, phase out the tipped minimum wage and link the minimum wage to median wages thereafter so its value no longer erodes over time. It would give more than 35 million Americans a raise and lift 4.5 million Americans out of poverty.  

Over 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, affirmed that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum wage workers. In fact, a minimum wage increase could help stimulate the economy as low-wage workers would have additional earnings to spend.

People across the political spectrum support an increase in the minimum wage. A survey conducted by the conservative pollster, Frank Luntz, even showed that 80 percent of business executives in local chambers of commerce supported increasing the minimum wage.

Yes, raising the minimum wage is a responsible policy that’s supported by research and demanded by the American public – but it’s also the right thing to do. Each day, minimum wage workers across the country struggle to make ends meet and provide a decent life for their kids. It’s unconscionable that, if you add up the salaries of all 1.1 million full-time workers who earn  $7.25 an hour or less, it’s still $9 billion short of what Wall Street bankers earned in bonuses alone last year.

It is always the right time to do the right thing, and now is the moment for Congress to work together on a bipartisan basis to raise the minimum wage. We raised it under challenging circumstances in 1996, when a Democrat was in the White House and Republicans controlled Congress, and we raised the minimum wage in 2007, when Democrats controlled Congress and a Republican was in the White House. We should raise the minimum wage again in 2016.

Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 House to vote next week on sweeping bill to lower drug prices Democrats press Trump officials over drop in ObamaCare signups amid website problems MORE is the top Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the House of Representatives and has sponsored a bill with Sen. Patty Murray to raise the federal minimum wage. Tom Perez is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.