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Op-ed: Raise minimum wage to something livable

Published November 30, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Has it ever occurred to you that conservative Republicans who want to cut federal financial assistance to the poor during weak economic times are the same ones who oppose raising the minimum wage?

In the face of a continuing weak economy, the Republican-controlled House voted recently to slash the $80 billion-a-year federal food stamp program by $39 billion over the next 10 years. They intend to accomplish this goal by 1) reducing the maximum dollar benefit participants currently receive and 2) by tightening eligibility requirements for the program.

At present, the maximum benefit for a family of four is about $668 per month.

This relentless war against our nation's most vulnerable citizens has been waged largely by conservative Republicans who believe that federally subsidized housing and food allowances have created a dangerous cycle of dependency among the poor. They spread the stereotype that low-income people are basically lazy slackers undeserving of government assistance.

They ignore the fact that the vast majority of low-income people are employed in poor-paying jobs that make it nearly impossible to get by without government assistance. After all, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $7.25 per hour.

The real value of the minimum wage has declined by 33 percent since 1968 because it does not adjust for inflation. Large publicly traded corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonalds and Yum Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC) employ more than 2 million Americans.

How many of these part-time, low-wage workers are receiving government assistance? Why should taxpayers subsidize these employees while the aforementioned "job creators" rake in record profits year after year?

And don't look for the federal government to lead the way on this important issue because it won't. That's despite the fact that a recent Gallup poll revealed that 76 percent of Americans favor a $9 minimum wage today. The poll also showed that 58 percent of Republican respondents favored the higher wage.

Fortunately, state and local governments are taking matters into their own hands by passing laws to increase the minimum wage so that people can work and support their families without the need for government handouts. Nineteen states currently have minimum wage laws above the federal minimum.

Washington State's law is $9.19 and Oregon's is $8.95. California's minimum wage is increasing incrementally and will reach $10 an hour in 2016. On March 1, 2013, the city of Santa Fe adopted a $10.51 per-hour minimum wage. The Washington, D.C., City Council recently passed a $12.50 per-hour minimum wage bill.

It's high time that corporate giants like McDonalds and Wal-Mart step up and begin to pay their employees a living wage. These large corporate conglomerates have made their fortunes on the backs of the working poor for far too long. The gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in this country has grown exponentially over the past 30 years.

Sadly, the Republican Party seems willing to continue to chip away at the safety net of vulnerable American families by reducing public assistance on one hand while holding the federal minimum wage hostage at below poverty level.

This is immoral. Come on, guys. You can't have it both ways — shame on you.

Michael Norman is a mystery writer and retired professor from Weber State University's Department of Criminal Justice.