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Two years ago this week, 4.5 million of America’s workers enjoyed a modest pay increase, as the federal minimum wage rose from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour. The increase was the final of a three-step boost enacted in 2007. Of those getting a bump in pay, more than three-quarters were adults, nearly two-thirds were women, and nearly a half-million were single parents with children under 18.
Yet, during the past two years, these working families have seen the real value of their wages fall. Minimum-wage earners working full time make roughly $15,000 a year. Had the minimum-wage rate kept up with inflation, their paychecks would have increased by $800 this year. Instead, our nation’s lowest-paid workers have had an even harder time providing basic needs for their families. This is one more reason that Main Street is having a tough time recovering from the economic calamity brought on by financial collapse.
CEO compensation grew 23 percent in 2010, while pay for the average American worker grew only a half-percent. Minimum-wage workers have fared even worse: Since the 2009 increase, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen 5 percent.
The decline in value of the minimum wage during the past four decades has been even more dramatic, as prices for goods and services have risen much faster than the wage floor. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since the late 1960s, it would be $10.38 today. Yet, roughly a quarter of the nation’s workforce is now earning less than that.
Instead of keeping the minimum wage current, Congress has acted just three times in the past three decades to increase it. The deterioration of the wage floor has helped fuel a level of economic inequality not seen in this nation since the early 1900s — the era of sweatshops and robber barons. With more and more income and wealth being transferred from working families to the super-rich, our economy, our democracy and the American way of life are under threat.
Written by Christine Owens executive director for the National Employment Law Project
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US investment in the Netherlands from 2000 to 2010 was nine times more than US investment in China during the same period. US investment in the UK was more than seven times more, and in Ireland nearly three times more, than in China. (Source: Transatlantic Economy 2011
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