Raise the minimum wage

It's the right thing to do

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.
Could you live on the minimum wage? Use The New York Times' interactive calculator to find out at http://tinyurl.com/NYTMinWage.
Read the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report “The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income” at http://tinyurl.com/CBOMinWage.

It's time to raise the federal minimum wage.

Well, actually, the time to raise the minimum wage was 40 years ago, when inflation, acting like a sneaky pickpocket, started stealing away the buying power of our most needy citizens.

Over the last 40 years, our wealthy have become more wealthy. Our poorest citizens have become poorer. Now, American income distribution resembles a Third World nation. This gap between the rich and the poor destroys lives and our very social fabric.

President Barack Obama is proposing to raise the federal minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 an hour ($8 in California) to $10.10. This 39-percent increase will roughly replace the amount that inflation has taken away since 1968.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that a $10.10 minimum wage will bring $31 billion to our lower-paid workers. It will free millions of people from poverty. And these are not teenagers working part-time jobs: The average age is 35, many are parents, and most of these people work full time.

And, even better, this will not increase the federal debt. It will not require more taxes. In fact, it will decrease the need for federal services such as food stamps, subsidized housing and emergency services.

Then, there is the question of jobs. Some economists think there will be job losses, particularly economists being paid by the restaurant industry and other industries, which would be impacted by this increase. Other economists believe there will be an increase in jobs, because the increased wage will provide a stimulus to the economy.

America has had a minimum wage since 1938. It has been raised numerous times. Obviously, if raising the minimum wage created massive job losses, there would be some evidence of it. The fact that those opposed to the increase have not cited any such evidence speaks volumes. Really, the increase in minimum wage has more to do with fairness than anything else. There will be more money going to our poorer citizens and less money to our richer citizens. That is the real issue. Everything else is a smoke screen.

I am a proud American. In 1968, when the minimum wage was the equivalent of $10.10, my father and his generation of World War II veterans repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly, told me and my classmates that, in America, if you worked hard, as long as you did not do something stupid like get drunk and drive down the wrong side of the street going 90 miles per hour, you would be OK. You might not live in the biggest house. You might not get a new car every year. But you and your family would do all right.

We can no longer say that. I want to be able to repeat my father’s message to the new generation of young people. We need to raise the minimum wage.