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National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage Follows DC Council's Passage of Living Wage Law

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 04:00

July 24, 2013 has been declared a National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage by a broad coalition of organizations including the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.  July 24th was chosen because it marks the date when the federal minimum wage was last raised four years ago — to a "measly $7.25 per hour"  — which will buy you much less than the minimum wage did in 1968.  The tipped minimum wage is only $2.13 per hour, and hasn't been raised since 1991.  This page has a list of suggested tweets and actions you can take on the 24th to spread the word about the need to raise the minimum wage.

 

Citing the importance of the added economic opportunity they bring to the District of Columbia and the particular ability of large retailers to compensate workers with a living wage in the face of a nationally high cost of living,  the D.C. City Council passed The Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would require retailers operating more than 750,000 square feet and with profits surpassing $1 billion to pay their employees wages of at least $12.50 per hour.

 

Critics say the move targets Wal-Mart, which is slated to open six new stores, creating 1800 new jobs in largely impoverished districts in the city. The retail giant, with more than 1 million employees in the United States, has already threatened to withdraw plans for three of its stores in wards 5 and 7, where unemployment rates near 20 percent. They also say that Wal-Mart's documented trackrecord of displacing local mom and pops would not apply in these particular parts of the District because they are already food deserts, with few retail options, that could benefit from low-cost necessities and employment opportunities.
 

Mayor Vincent Gray, who has been working with Wal-Mart to ensure it gives back to the community by hiring locals and donating to local charities, has said he may veto the legislation because it would set back the District economically and leave behind vacant plots. He is also looking at the alternative of raising the overall minimum wage, currently at $8.25 in the District, rather than targeting large retailers.
 

Several cities nationwide have led successful efforts to prevent Wal-Mart, which pays its workers less than half as well as its primary competitor Costco, from settling into their neighborhoods. An exception, Chicago faced a similar dilemma to the one the District is facing several years ago. Ultimately Wal-Mart's negotiation tactics won out there. An independent study based on door-to-door surveys over three years was conducted in response, which found that Wal-Mart destroyed as many jobs as it replaced.
 

A 2006 Economic Policy Institute study calls the price-wage debate that surrounds large retailers like Wal-Mart a "false dichotomy." While Wal-Mart is able to provide lower costs for lower wages, the commodities that Wal-Mart specializes in, household goods, clothing and groceries, are not the ones that contribute the most to expenditures. Their share has been decreasing, while the share of rent, utilities, health care, child care and education has been increasing. The study found that competing stores reduce worker pay in response to Wal-Mart's low wages, and that Wal-Mart maintains a profit margin 50 percent greater than Costco's, which means it could probably afford to raise wages without raising prices. On its website, Wal-Mart lists its average full-time employee hourly wage as $12.78.
 

According to the EPI's family budget calculator, a family of four in the Washington, D.C. area needs more than $80,000 a year to get by modestly. These costs were 40 percent higher than the national median of $63,000. The federal poverty line for a family of four is just over $20,000. Minimum-wage earners in the District had to work three full-time jobs to afford fair market rent on average.
 

On the national level, EPI's research also contributes to a growing body of knowledge about the relationship of increased GDP to higher worker compensation. The institute calls for raising the national minimum wage, which has not kept up with inflation over the past 50 years, by 2015 in order to boost economic growth in the U.S.
 

The Living Wage Action Coalition, which fights to clear misconceptions on how people wind up in poverty, defines a living wage as being able to meet the most basic costs of living, which include:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Taxes
  • Other basic necessities


According to Defeat Poverty DC, the District's unofficial unemployment rate is 12 percent with 24 percent of single adults with children unemployed. Twenty percent of the 50,000 low-income District residents in need of workforce development have not worked in at least five years. By promoting literacy education, transportation, child care, nutrition, health care and affordable housing, among others, the campaign, which claims that there are more jobs in D.C. than there are skilled workers to fill them, works to provide case management and supportive services for workers to find steady employment.
 

A MoveOn petition in support of the District's living wage bill is online.