May Day 2014: The Minimum We Can Do for All Workers

By Alicia Criado, Field Coordinator, Economic Policy Project, NCLR

Every year on May 1, or May Day, people around the world celebrate and promote workers’ rights. May Day is also about ensuring that workers are respected and rewarded for their hard work. Coincidentally, this year’s May Day falls one day after the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. That boost would lift about 28 million workers out of poverty and afford them the dignity they deserve.

NCLR at the White House for President Obama’s remarks on minimum wage. April 30, 2014

In an effort to shed light on what a minimum wage increase would mean for our familias, NCLR has collected stories from our Affiliates and the NCLR Action Network. Most of these stories convey the difficulty of surviving on poverty-level wages. Many workers, particularly mothers and students, are working hard at jobs that do not sustain them or their families financially. It is simply immoral that some of these individuals have to decide between paying the rent or paying the utilities.

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Many wonder what ever happened to the American promise of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of middle- and high-wage jobs were wiped out during the Great Recession. Recent studies have shown that low-wage jobs accounted for the majority of the job growth during the recovery. This reality has left young workers such as Balla and Tyvon, members of Latin American Youth Center, an NCLR Affiliate, with limited job prospects in industries that offer limited economic security, including fast-food restaurants and retail.

Tyvon and Balla at the White House on April 30, 2014

Balla is a part-time sales associate in the retail industry and spends hours on his feet earning $8.50 an hour. He explained that his “limited income usually allows me to cover basic expenses like rent, food, and transportation, but not always.” Balla believes that access to a good job with livable wages would “allow him to save money to pursue other dreams like obtaining post-secondary education.” Balla stood with Tyvon and other low-wage workers behind President Obama yesterday at the White House, all expressing their dismay with Congress for not allowing a vote on the minimum wage.

Watch the president’s remarks below:

The life of the working poor is difficult without a good job that pays a living wage and other workplace benefits such as paid sick leave. Raising the wage floor would benefit all workers, including approximately 24% of Latinos, a segment of our workforce that is overrepresented in low-wage occupations. Latinos are more likely than other Americans to be employed in the low-wage labor market and work in part-time positions, which rarely afford them access to benefits or living wages. Ensuring that low-wage workers can afford basic living necessities helps not only them but also communities and businesses, which in turn strengthens our economy.

On this May Day, NCLR stands with advocates of workers’ rights, immigrant rights groups, labor unions, and other small business organizations advocating for federal and state policies that create living wage jobs and protect the most vulnerable working families. We think that’s the minimum our country can do for its workers.

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