Bare Minimum

Hurray! The federal minimum wage has had its first increase in ten years. Let’s break out the bubbly and celebrate – unless you are one of the almost two million Americans making at or below the national minimum. In that case, join the toast with a cup of tap water – preferably from someone else’s tap to save a little money. ‘Cause even with this incease, if you’re making minimum wage, life’s still not a bed of roses. (Try prickly, spikey thorns…)

One thing is for sure—since the 1980 we as a nation have truly been putting the “minimum” – as in what’s the minimum wage that we can pay before people riot in the streets—in minimum wage. Fifty years ago the minimum wage was a round dollar. Adjusted for inflation, that 1957 buck has a current buying power of $7.17. That means that, even with the increase of the minimum wage (or should it better be called “mini-wage?) the new floor brings workers to only 82% what workers were making at minimum two generations ago. Of course, that is better than 72% they were earning before the jump from $5.15. (Check out Think Progress“Minimum Wage By The Numbers”.)

But it’s still not jumping onto the gravy train. Or even the watery gruel train.

Yesterday I heard a report on NPR about how mortgage defaults for middle class home owners have almost tripled in parts of the country but sales of mega-mansions priced at $10 million and above have soared. Today’s news on the minimized minimum wage is yet another thread in the gilded-age tapestry of inequity we have been weaving as a nation since 1980.

I’m just wondering when the whole thing is going to start unraveling.

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