Doing the Minimum for Workers

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Once again, Congress has missed an opportunity to raise the national minimum wage. Not touched since the increases of 1996-97, the $5.15 hourly rate seems nailed to the ground, even as the cost of living goes up.

As an amendment to the bankruptcy bill, a minimum wage of $7.25 was proposed Monday by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts. Sen. Rick Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania countered with $6.25.

Both proposals were defeated, as expected. Senator Kennedy, rebuffed on this issue by the GOP in the past, was trying to make a political point - and spur more states to raise their own minimums.

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This issue is hotly partisan. Republicans argue that raising the pay floor costs poor workers their jobs, and isn't targeted very well. For instance, 41 percent of minimum-wage earners live with a parent or relative, including many teenagers whose earnings go to iPods, not bread and butter.

Democrats trot out competing job-loss studies, and emphasize the poor - such as single mothers - who are indeed helped by an increase. Both cases are presented at www.minimumwage.com (by conservatives) and www.epinet.org (by liberals).

It sounds like a draw, but it's not. The overwhelming argument for an increase is inflation. Today's $5.15 equals $4.23 in 1995 (just before the last raise). Many workers get cost-of-living increases, but the minimum wage doesn't change. Mr. Kennedy should keep pushing, and Congress should come to an agreement. It's the minimum they can do.

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