The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

$10.10 an Hour Is NOT a Living Wage

Apr 14, 2014

In a recent speech at the University of Michigan, President Obama promoted a bill that would raise the minimum wage nationally to $10.10. He said it would “lift millions of people out of poverty right away” and added that he is calling upon business leaders across the nation to “give them (their employees) a fair wage.”

You don’t have to be working at minimum wage to know that Obama is stretching the truth past the breaking point.

It’s true that the minimum wage today means living in poverty. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equates to $15,080 a year, which is below the federal poverty limit of $15,730 for a family of two.

A recent report of the National Low Income Housing Coalition showed that there isn’t one state in the U.S. where you can work 40 hours per week at minimum wage and afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at what is called Fair Market Rent. In many states, you would have to work two or three full time jobs at minimum wage to earn enough.

But even if the minimum wage is raised to $10.10 per hour, it still is obviously not enough to live on–only $21,008 a year. That might be just enough to push a family of three over the official poverty line. But $21,000 a year puts a family of four below it.

If the minimum wage had only just kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be pegged at $10.52 per hour. And when you look at the bigger picture, the truth that jumps out at you is staggering.

Workers’ productivity has risen so high that the minimum wage would be $21.72 if the real value of the workers’ labor were calculated. The government knows this: the information was released in a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. So why are Obama and some in Congress proposing to raise the minimum to less than half of that?

Why, because it is what the corporations and the bankers want. The same bosses that Obama wants to ask for cooperation have been making a killing off of us, off the gains of productivity they stole from us. Hourly wages grew by just 2% in 2013, while corporate earnings grew by as much as eleven percent per share of stock. The top one percent possess wealth equal to 90 percent of all U.S. families. The wealth streaming to the top has been ripped off the labor of most of the rest of the population.

We are being robbed of our productivity, our resulting wages, our homes and health and the welfare of our families and communities.

Obama said that “nobody who works full time should be raising a family in poverty.” Absolutely right! But when you combine the figures for the unemployed and the underemployed with the figures for those whose full time wage keeps them living in poverty, you see that well over half of the U.S. working class is barely surviving.

Sure, Obama talks about raising the minimum wage. Even some corporations do. But it should be, at the very least, a living wage that reflects the work and value of what every worker does.

No boss, no politician, is going to give us that.

We will have to fight for it. And it takes just as much effort, it’s just as hard to fight for $10.10 an hour, as it is to fight for double that.

Fight now, or fight later, as the saying goes. But later will be only that much harder.