Skip to main content

Why raise minimum wage?

By Raymond C. Offenheiser
updated 12:26 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Workers demonstrate for a higher minimum wage on April 29 in Washington.
Workers demonstrate for a higher minimum wage on April 29 in Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oxfam study: Minimum wage hike would help people in every congressional district
  • Raymond Offenheiser says it would benefit 55,000+ workers in average congressional district
  • It would help economy, get people off assistance, he says -- so why the partisan stalling?
  • Writer: Congress hiked minimum wage 22 times before; it must now as a boon to America

Editor's note: Raymond Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America, an anti-poverty organization. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Injustice has no borders, as we at Oxfam know well from years of experience working in more than 90 countries. We also know that poverty has no political party in our own country, the United States.

Last week Oxfam released a new study that dispels many of the political myths surrounding the nation's minimum wage debate. It shows not only that increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour would give some 25 million workers across America a much-needed raise, but also that, on average, one in five workers in every single congressional district in America -- red or blue -- would benefit from such a raise.

Raymond C. Offenheiser
Raymond C. Offenheiser

In fact, according to our data, a hike in the minimum wage would benefit more than 55,000 workers in the average congressional district.

We found that the workers who would gain most are concentrated in districts that are remarkably diverse, from highly condensed urban areas to poor rural areas. At the top of the list is East Los Angeles (31.8% of workers), followed by the largely rural south coastal district in Texas' 34th District (29.9% of workers). A district in the San Joaquin Valley of California is next, followed by more districts in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. Next on the list are districts in Dallas-Fort Worth (28.8% of workers), the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas (28.5% of workers), El Paso (27.9% of workers), the Bronx (27.6% of workers), and the boot heel of Missouri (27.3% of workers).

Raising the minimum wage would equally help Americans who live in Republican and Democratic districts, rural and metropolitan. It would also pump money into the economy and save billions in taxpayer dollars by reducing the number of low-wage workers receiving federal assistance. It seems an obvious thing to do.

From 1938, when a federal minimum wage was established, to its most recent increase in 2007 -- passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush -- most members of Congress recognized that as the cost of living goes up, so should the minimum wage. So why has the issue become bogged down in partisan politics that do little to serve our people or our future?

Gingrich: too many of our jobs are low-paying
Seattle raises minimum wage to $15/hour
Cupp & Jones same outrage over Romney

We are lucky enough to live in a wealthy democracy, but Oxfam is seeing the same growing problem of inequality in America that we see in developing countries: Relatively few people hold more and more power. In principle, the United States is the land where all people are created equal. But in reality, political power is stacked in favor of the wealthy.

Because of this imbalance, millions of hard-working Americans can't stop falling behind, working at jobs that pay under $10 per hour and rarely offer benefits -- some not even a day of paid sick leave.

Our study found that at least one-fourth of Americans work at jobs that pay so little that they cannot sustain themselves and their families without turning to government programs or going into debt. The average age of a worker who would benefit from a minimum wage increase is 35. Most (55%) are women. Over a third are parents of dependent children.

These are people like Tenesha Hueston, a single mother of four in Zebulon, North Carolina, who, according to a New York Times article in November, was making $7.75 an hour as a shift manager at a fast-food restaurant. Or Nick Mason, a father of two in Hixson, Tennessee, who made $9 an hour as an assistant manager at a pizza chain. They work these jobs year after year, while trying to care for their own children and parents, struggling to pay their bills. For them and people like them, the American Dream is a distant mirage.

According to our analysis, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift more than 5 million Americans out of poverty and help 14 million children see a boost in their family income. Fourteen million women, including 6 million working mothers, would get a raise. Three million single parents would be better able to sustain their families.

The sad irony of the standoff in Congress over raising the minimum wage is that petty partisanship gets in the way of a deal that would benefit large numbers of constituents in every congressional district, seemingly a boon to elected representatives of both parties. At least, that has been the logic that led to bipartisan support for increasing the minimum wage 22 times before now.

Members of Congress from each party need to be willing to overcome the divide: to be open to the debate, to consider the needs of hard-working constituents and taxpayers, to consider the wide range of benefits -- and ultimately, to give a raise to the people who need it the most.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT