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Rep. Yarmuth: Louisville Workers Deserve a Raise

LOUISVILLE – Joined by a coalition of workers, business owners, labor unions, and local and state lawmakers, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) on Monday called on Congress to immediately give workers a long-overdue raise by approving legislation to increase the federal minimum wage.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010) would increase the federal minimum wage over three years from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. The legislation, which Yarmuth is cosponsoring, would also index the minimum wage to inflation. It has stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

A livable minimum wage will help Louisville workers break the cycle of poverty, immediately reduce dependence on public assistance, and increase the spending power of millions of American consumers to grow the economy.

“If you put in 40 hours a week, you should be able to put food on your family’s table every day,” Yarmuth said. “For struggling families who can’t afford college or even to take time off to look for work or receive training, the minimum wage should be a steppingstone out of poverty – not a trap like it is today.”

In real value, today’s minimum wage is 30 percent lower than it was four decades ago. A full-time worker earning minimum wage makes $15,080 per year – 36 percent below the federal poverty level. Contrary to popular myth, the average minimum wage earner is 35 years old. Two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. One in four is a parent.

In Louisville alone, 61,000 workers would benefit from a $10.10 minimum wage. [Oxfam America, June 2014] It would raise the pay of one in four Kentucky workers and help more than one in five children by increasing the wages of at least one parent. And it would boost the Commonwealth’s economy by $421 million. [Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, January 2014]

“If you don’t increase the federal minimum wage, how can you expect the average person to survive and take care of their everyday needs?” said Lavel White, a Louisvillian currently earning the minimum wage. “If you’re making $10.10 an hour, you have a fighting chance of providing for your family.”

Wages have also failed to keep up with American labor output. U.S. productivity has more than doubled during the past four decades, while wages have remained stagnant.

“A workforce isn’t strong if its workers are living in poverty and struggling to survive,” said Bill Londrigan, President of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. “Today’s minimum wage isn’t even close to enough to get by on, which is why we need Congress to vote immediately to raise the wage.”

Raising the federal minimum wage would also help stimulate the economy. More than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, sent a letterto Congressional leaders earlier this year advocating for a $10.10 federal minimum wage. They wrote that increasing the minimum wage would have little to no negative effect on employment while boosting consumer spending, which stimulates the economy and leads to job growth. 

“Hiring an employee is an investment in my business,” said Erin Lee, owner of Smokey’s Bean coffee shop in Old Louisville. “I want my employees to stay long-term and be productive, and paying a livable wage encourages this. It helps my employees and in return helps my business.”

“Providing a living wage means I have fulfilled my end of the bargain in the American Dream,” said Maggie Payette Harlow, owner of Signarama Downtown and Transworld Louisville. “When my employees are not distressed about how to make ends meet, they become more productive citizens and employees.”

In addition, employment continues to grow faster in states that have raised the minimum wage. On January 1, 13 states raised their minimum wage either through new legislation or as part of an automatic increase tagged to inflation. In all but one, employment grew faster in the states that raised their minimum wage than in the states that didn’t. [Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2014]

“While opponents of raising the minimum wage claim it will hurt businesses and lead to increased prices of goods and services, the research doesn’t bear that out,” said Flaco Aleman, Executive Director of Kentucky Jobs with Justice. “In city after city, state after state, a higher minimum wage has helped workers, grown the economy, and made families and communities stronger.”

The Fair Minimum Wage Act is also part of House Democrats’ Middle Class Jumpstart, a 100-day legislative action plan to help working families and rebuild the middle-class economy. The action plan includes specific legislation to help create and improve American jobs, make education more affordable and accessible, and empower women and families.

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