So far the Democratic-controlled Congress has not done much in the way of legislation. Seemingly, it has spent more time exercising Congressional oversight. Say what you will. However, this Congress achieved at least one clear success by pushing through an increase in the federal minimum wage, which President Bush signed into law on May 25. The bill provides for a three-stage 70 cents increase. The first stage, effective on July 24, increased the federal minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $5.85. By July 24th, 2009, the federal minimum wage will reach $7.25 per hour.
Many call this a victory; I call it a modest start. Currently, the official poverty rate is somewhere between 12-13 percent of the population, which translates into about 37 million people. This is unacceptable considering the economic stature of the United States. Compared to most other industrialized societies, the U.S. has higher poverty rates for children and the non-elderly.
There are many complex causes of the state of poverty in the U.S., one being the growing disparity between the average income and the minimum wage income. Despite national increases in worker productivity and corporate profits, the typical income of the minimum-wage workers remains in a state of proportional decline.
The increase in minimum wage serves as a good starting point. However, it does not grant either Congress or U.S. citizens a clear conscience. The problem of poverty and wage worker abjection will persist if we buy into the notion that this recent minimum wage increase is enough.
Our society needs to approach the problem from multiple angles, ranging from healthcare, education and housing costs to the price of gasoline. All of these issues factor into the larger problem. Therefore, if we only narrowly focus on the wage aspect, we will certainly fail to make even a dent in the class inequalities that plague this country.
Lance Webb is a junior philosophy and news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.