When Even Walmart is Increasing its Minimum Wage, You Know Everybody Deserves a Raise

February 19th 2015

The wages may still keep their employees below the poverty level, but the announcement Thursday that Walmart would raise its lowest wage to $10-an-hour by Feb. 2016 shows the severity of our minimum wage problem.

Because let's face it: Walmart, while one of the largest employers in the country, is far from the best. There are blogs dedicated to it, a Gawker series documenting reader-submitted horror stories, and more than a few thinkpieces from employees former and current. According to a study from the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, more than 300,000 California workers qualify for Medi-Cal, a state-funded health insurance option for low-wage earners — and many of those folks are employed at places like Walmart and Target.

But the victory, though small, is still a victory for those who have worked hard and tirelessly for years to champion it. Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, released a statement in response congratulating organizers for their hard-work paying off:

"Today, courageous Walmart workers who for years have been fighting for higher pay and better treatment from the nation’s largest employer have achieved something unprecedented: a commitment from Walmart to raise wages company-wide to a minimum of $10 an hour in 2016. ... [A] result of years of organizing by Walmart employees, who have united under the banner of OUR Walmart and engaged in strikes, protests, consumer education, and investor outreach to draw attention to the company’s deplorable working conditions."

But even Owens knows this small step is still not enough. "Yet the changes in company policy announced by Walmart are inadequate for the hundreds of thousands of employees who struggle to support themselves and their families," she said. Despite this recent increase to $10, Owens says employees are seeking a $15-an-hour wage.

Americans think it's time to raise the wage.

Six in ten Americans support an increase in the minimum wage (in addition to requiring employers to provide paid sick and parental leave) — more support than the cause has had in years. And it's probably because Americans are feeling the minimum wage's inadequacy. In terms of buying power, the federal minimum wage ($7.25-an-hour, enacted in July 2009) has actually decreased when adjusted for inflation over time. This means their dollars don't go as far anymore. Consider this: in order to have the buying power of the 1968 minimum wage — when the country was on an economic growth fast-track — of $1.60, today's minimum wage would have to be $10.88. (That accounts for inflation.) As it currently stands, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is actually a 35.7 percent decrease in the buying power compared to the minimum wage rates from 1960 to 2014.

And when you consider the number of years between federal minimum wage increases, maybe that $15-an-hour isn't such an audacious request. Besides, who can survive on $7.25 an hour/$15,080 a year?

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