A Minimum Wage Hike is Needed to Help Close the Income Gap

min_wage_3Recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that Latinos experienced modest gains in income during 2013, helping raise about 900,000 Hispanics out of poverty. While the numbers certainly indicated that the economy is moving in the right direction, the reality is about a quarter of all Latinos living in the U.S. are still stuck in poverty. Long term wage trends give a more accurate picture of just how difficult it is to move up the economic ladder.

To gain some perspective on how income levels have changed over the years, NPR has assembled multiple graphs which paint an alarming picture of the growing income inequality in the U.S. over the past 40 years. The graph shows that income levels have essentially remained stagnant for those among the bottom half of earners, after adjusting for inflation. In comparison, those in the 95th percentile saw their income increase by about 36 percent.

NPR Graph
Graph: NPR

Without policy intervention to change the structures and systems that perpetuate inequality, this picture will only get worse. Congress needs to act to help close the gap between the top earners and those at the bottom of the economic ladder. And the first place they should start is at the very bottom. Workers living on a minimum wage earn just over $15,000 per year. That’s simply not enough to cover basic expenses. Most families in the U.S. couldn’t fathom what living with such as constrained budget would be like. It would mean making impossible choices between putting food on the table for your children and paying medical bills.

The “Minimum Wage Fairness Act” (S. 2223), which was introduced a year ago on October 10th (10/10), would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour by the year 2016 and adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living beginning in 2016. However, Congress failed to advance this legislation this year.

As we approach the anniversary of the bill’s introduction, it’s time for Congress to act to raise the minimum wage. This modest boost in wages would increase pay for nearly 28 million Americans, including almost 7 million hardworking Latinos, and has the potential to lift 6 million Americans out of poverty.

In a country that has seen the income for top earners soar over the past 40 years, it’s unacceptable that we can’t provide decent, livable wages so that struggling families can get by. Ten dollars and ten cents may not seem like a lot, but for minimum wage workers it can make a world of difference.

Join the discussion by sharing your minimum wage story with NCLR.

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