This Labor Day, Hardworking Women and Men Deserve a Raise
A long holiday weekend is nearly upon us, and I’ll admit, my mind is wandering a bit today to non-work-related thoughts of beaches and barbecues. But before we all head off to celebrate a Labor Day free of labor, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the origins of this end-of-summer tradition.
According to the Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” The first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City, and was organized by the Central Labor Union, which later urged labor organizations in other cities to celebrate an annual “workingmen’s holiday” on the first Monday in September.
Of course, today we recognize that it is not only “workingmen,” but also millions of working women who have made great contributions “to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” After decades of historic strides, women now make up about half of the U.S. workforce, and have entered into fields from manufacturing to medicine in numbers that many would not have imagined a generation ago.
At the same time, it’s important to note that true equality in the workplace is not yet a reality. For example, women’s typical earnings are still lower than men’s; American women who work full time, year round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. The concentration of women in low-wage jobs is one reason for this wage gap: women represent nearly two-thirds of workers making the federal minimum wage. At just $7.25 an hour, minimum wage earnings leave a mother with two children thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line, even if she works full time. And for workers who depend on tips – also mostly women – the picture can be even worse, as the federal minimum cash wage for tipped workers has been frozen at $2.13 an hour for more than 20 years.
But there is a simple way to help ensure that hardworking women and men do not live in poverty, while also promoting fair pay: raise the minimum wage. The Fair Minimum Wage Act introduced last month would increase the federal minimum wage to $9.80 per hour by 2014, meaning an additional $5,100 each year for a full-time worker – enough to lift a family of three out of poverty. (The bill would also gradually raise the tipped minimum cash wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage and index both wages to inflation.) Higher pay for millions of women across the country would help narrow the wage gap and boost our economy as well, since lower-income families will spend their extra wages on goods and services that other workers provide, creating more jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that implementing the Fair Minimum Wage Act would generate about $25 billion in economic activity and around 100,000 jobs.
If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the past four decades, it would be more than $10.50 per hour today – and Congress has raised the minimum wage only three times in the past 30 years. So this Labor Day, let’s recognize that it’s high time to raise the federal minimum wage. But feel free to have some fun, too; after all, the first Labor Day holiday involved “a street parade to exhibit to the public ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations’ of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families” (including a few kegs). Hope you enjoy a safe and happy holiday weekend!
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