The Senate Dismisses Inflation's Power

By denying a Democratic move to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour ($10,300 per year for a full-time job) to $6.25 over 18 months, the Senate Republicans have decided that on one hand, wages don't need to increase along with inflation's affect on decreasing buying power and, yet, on the other that business isn't increasing its revenues at least as fast as inflation. The most recent previous proposal by the marvelous and bilious Sen. Ted Kennedy was for a $2.15 increase (to $7.30) over 26 months, and this reduction picked up a vote.

A Republican counterproposal would have kept the $1.10 increase but required a remarkable array of horrible add-ons, such as allowing "flex-time," in which overtime one week could be made up through undertime another. These senators are pretending that people working these kinds of jobs have the easy flexibility that would allow the kind of schedules that employers would impose if no longer subject to week-based overtime rules. Jeesus.

Inflation increased 25 percent from 1997, the last increase in the federal minimum wage, to last month. Thus $6.25 would still be slightly short of inflation across that period. I live in Washington State, which requires a minimum wage of $7.35. This is still a ridiculously low wage: $15,700 per year. There are few communities in Washington in which a single person earning that wage and paying no tax on it would spend much less than one-third of their take-home on rent; in Seattle, you'd pay 75 to 100 percent of your take-home pay on rent.