When the first minimum wage law was passed in 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “[N]o business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of a decent living.”
Cities that have passed living wage laws require a higher than minimum wage so that workers may contribute to the local community as consumers. They didn’t wait on Congress, they recognized that $7.25 is too low for an individual, let alone a family, to survive. It is a poverty wage. The Tennessee legislature, by banning living wage ordinances, has made it impossible for local communities to raise the standard of living for its residents. And our representatives right here in Rutherford County made sure of that—all of them—Ketron, Tracy, Carr, Sparks and White—voting for the bill that bans any local government from requiring private employers to provide wages greater than federal minimum.
In Tennessee we can’t leave it up to local politics, so we must turn to the federal government. We have a chance, now that Congress is back in session, to voice our concerns for those living at or below the poverty level. The bill pending in the Senate, S.460, will gradually raise the minimum wage to just over $10 per hour and raise the wage for tipped workers to 70% of the regular minimum wage.
Now, I know what the arguments against this moral step will be—it will cost jobs, it will raise the cost of products sold (i.e. hamburgers will cost $8) and low-wage workers will always be low-skilled and don’t deserve anything more. Well, they don’t deserve tips on how to reduce their stress or applications for welfare benefits. We need to study this moral issue and voice our concerns with calls to our elected officials. It is time to raise the minimum wage.