Friday, April 02, 2004


Yesterday’s failed welfare bill at least shoves our face in a cruel fact about America, one easy to forget sometimes: The U.S. minimum wage is $5.15 an hour and has been since 1997. Someone working full-time for minimum wage earns $206 a week, or $10,712 a year.

Realistically, the wage is more like $4.41 an hour, because the consumer price index has risen 17 percent since 1997. So figure working full time gives a minimum-wage worker $176.40 a week, or $9,172 a year.

A main reason the bill failed -- it’s not dead, just shelved until the Senate decides to pick it up again -- is that Democrats wanted to add a minimum-wage increase, and the Republicans, the party in charge, denied them a vote on it. Instead of increasing the wage, the new version of the bill would (among other things) follow through on President Bush’s request to spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting “healthy” marriages.

Ostensibly, because they would be paid for by the government, the healthy-marriage sessions could become free entertainment for minimum-wage couples, obviating the need for movie tickets (which cost about $10, or twice what a minimum-wage worker will earn in an hour). If the government set out doughnuts and coffee, these couples could save even more money that would otherwise be spent on food (say, a large burger and fries combo at a fast-food joint for about $6, or slightly more than what a minimum-wage worker earns in an hour). A couple could attend a session a week and save themselves $32, or a theoretical $1,664 a year!

Of course, the Democratic proposal would raise the minimum wage to $7 an hour over two years, for about $4,500 more a year.

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