Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 24, 2008: Small boost, big dreams

Posted on

For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/24/08

The federal minimum wage will increase today from $5.85 to $6.55 an hour. This amounts to $28 a week for a full-time worker – less than the cost of half a tank of gas. At this rate, annual wages for full-time work still leave a family of three nearly $1,000 per year below the federal poverty rate.

A column by Madeline Zavodny in Tuesday’s AJC argues that this minimal increase “bodes ill for many workers” (“Wage increase may backfire,” @issue). As she did not offer sources for most of her claims, we checked with some local experts.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, in a 2006 report, quotes a letter signed by 650 economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, in support of raising the minimum wage: “We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage (in the range of $1-$2.50/hr) would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed.”

Quishanna Loynes, an assistant grocery store manager, is also an expert in low-wage work. Hired as a fulltime worker for rotating shifts, she was rarely scheduled for more than 30 hours a week. “I never brought home more than $220 a week,” she explains. “After taking out $12 for MARTA to get to work and paying my baby-sitter $15-$20, I put the rest aside for rent and utilities. When there was a fifth Friday in the month, I could buy shoes or underwear for the kids. If someone needed a new backpack for school, that would have to wait till next month.”

Quishanna is an “average” minimum-wage worker. The GBPI estimates that raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 (over three years) will benefit about 672,000 workers in Georgia. Of these, 84 percent are adults (20 years or older), about one-third are married and one-third are parents. An estimated 413,000 Georgia children will also benefit from the increase.

The Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition, made up of more than 50 local and statewide community, faith and labor organizations, works to raise the minimum wage – both to cover workers not included under federal law and to raise the wage above $7.25 per hour in 2009. The coalition is guided by a simple principle: Work should lift a family out of poverty, not trap them in it.

By an overwhelming majority, Georgia voters agree. A 2006 University of Georgia poll found that 90 percent believe the minimum wage should be above $7 per hour. Black and white, rural and urban, Republican and Democrat – respondents said they would be more likely to vote for candidates who commit to make this happen.

Recognizing the call for economic justice at the heart of many faith traditions, more than 130 clergy and faith leaders from across Georgia have signed a letter calling on the General Assembly to increase the state minimum wage.

The recent economic stimulus checks demonstrated that putting money into the hands of working families directly benefits local businesses. Increasing the minimum wage would provide community economic stimulus, as low-wage workers spend every extra dollar for milk, diapers and shoes in their neighborhoods.

The American Dream is built on the promise that if you work hard, you can get ahead. Quishanna Loynes, along with tens of thousands of parents across our state, is doing her part. Through the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition, leaders of local congregations, unions and community organizations are doing their part to support state and federal legislation to raise the minimum wage to a level that supports a family above the poverty rate.

> Cindia Cameron is organizing director for 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women, and co-chair of the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition. The Rev. Christopher Henry is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a faith-based organizer with the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition.

« Back to News