Op-Eds

Higher Minimum Wage Would Benefit Working Families

By Congressman Henry Cuellar

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Washington, August 26, 2006 | comments

Today, hard-working families are struggling more than ever to afford the rising costs of basic necessities such as gas, health care, and education. Gas prices have climbed to over $3 a gallon. The average American family now pays $1,200 more than last year for health insurance, and students are encountering more financial roadblocks to their college education than ever before. Despite the urgent need for relief, the minimum wage is still the lowest it has been in 50 years. Even full-time workers aren’t making enough money to provide for their families.

A full-time minimum wage worker earns a mere $10,700 a year, which is well below the poverty level for a family of three. Nearly three-quarters of these workers are adults who provide for more than half of their family’s annual income. Many of these workers are parents with children under the age of 18. Approximately 15 million Americans would benefit from a minimum wage increase. The last federal minimum wage increase was in 1997. In the years following the increase, the country’s economy enjoyed robust growth and the creation of millions of new jobs, proving that a modest increase is beneficial for both working families and the economy.

As a small business owner myself, I learned first hand the issues small business owners face and will always consider what is in their best interest when supporting legislation. While an increase in the minimum wage is beneficial to workers, I also support legislation that helps small businesses, including: the opening of foreign markets to US products; tort reform; and, business tax simplification.

As a legislator, I have always been concerned with the plight of working families, and I will continue to fight for a fair wage to benefit all Americans. Nine years have passed since the federal minimum wage was raised. This is the second-longest period without an increase since the federal minimum wage law was enacted in 1938. An increase in the federal minimum wage is long overdue.

America’s working families are facing difficult times. Working families are straining to fill up their gas tanks to go to work and take their children to school. These families are grappling with being able to pay for doctors’ visits and preventive healthcare for their families. We live in a land of opportunity, and hard-working Americans and their families should not be faced with having to choose between basic needs.  

The House of Representatives recently voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over the next three years. I strongly believe that this raise in the minimum wage will help lift countless families out of poverty. Unfortunately, partisan wrangling may doom this legislation. I encourage all members of Congress to set party politics aside and vote for an increase in the minimum wage. By denying Americans this much needed pay increase Congress is committing a grave injustice. Our families deserve better.

Congress had the opportunity to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over the next three years. I strongly believe that raising the minimum wage will help lift countless families out of poverty, and I will fight to make it law. By denying Americans this much needed pay increase Congress is committing a grave injustice. Our families deserve better.

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