The Fight for Higher Minimum Wage
CNN Financial: CNN Money Morning
April 3, 2002
Guest: David Swanson
Host: David Haffenreffer
DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNNfn ANCHOR, MONEY MORNING: Most Americans would agree that the national minimum wage of $5.15 an hour isn’t really a living wage. But more individual cities and counties are joining a living wage movement. And joining us now with more on all this is David Swanson . He is with an advocacy group for lower income Americans known as ACORN. Welcome to the program.
DAVID SWANSON, ACORN: Thank you.
HAFFENREFFER: First of all, tell me a little bit about how the living wage movement progresses. They’ve taken it right down to the local level trying to get cities and towns and counties to force companies that do business with the governments there to raise their minimum wage. How does all this work?
SWANSON: That’s correct. I mean as you mentioned, it’s been years since Congress adjusted the federal minimum wage to keep pace with the cost of living and we’ve been able to organize broad coalitions of community groups like ACORN, labor unions, religious leaders in city after city to push the local government to take matters into its own hands, setting a higher minimum wage for direct public employees and employees of companies that are benefiting from public dollars, whether it with contracts or subsidy.
The idea is simply that if you’re working full time, you ought not to be poor and millions of Americans now are working full time or more and are unable to meet their basic needs and are having to turn to the government for handouts. So the idea behind the living wage laws that are targeted at public employees is that at least our tax dollars shouldn’t be contributing to poverty jobs.
HAFFENREFFER: Well why do you think Congress has been so unwilling to raise the minimum wage?
SWANSON: It’s a good question. I mean 80 percent of the public in the latest poll supports so-called raising the minimum wage, that is restoring part of its value. Its $5.15 and would have to be over $8 to be worth what it was 30 years ago. Businesses are simply being allowed to pay much less than they used to and I mean, the latest issue may be September 11th, having derailed a lot of topics in Congress and we are hopeful that this spring or summer there will be an increase in the federal minimum wage.
HAFFENREFFER: This type of effort no doubt getting some resistance from those in the business community. We understand that hotels and restaurants are among those leading the resistance efforts. Many of them simply saying, if I’m forced to raise the cost to hire employees, I’m going to hire fewer employees. How do you go about getting around such claims?
SWANSON: Well that’s been the theory for years, predating even the federal minimum wage but there has yet to be any evidence for it and if there were really evidence for it, the living wage movement would not be growing at the rate it is. In fact, it would die a quick death.
We, in fact, have found a lot of businesses coming around to support living wage standards in that they see the benefits that they’re getting from increased morale, lower turnover, increased productivity and the benefits to local communities of having more money out there in circulation. I mean it’s the same argument that was used for the tax rebates. You boost the economy by boosting spending and when we’re talking about low income people, when you get money into their hands, it’s immediately spent.
HAFFENREFFER: We’ve got about ten seconds left. I just quickly wanted you to run down some of the major cities where you guys have been successful in getting the living wage passed.
SWANSON: Well it’s 82 cities and counties. It includes Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, which recently raised its living wage level and New Orleans was recently the first city in the country to set a higher minimum wage for every private employer, regardless of ties to the government. New York City’s council has introduced a living wage ordinance that we expect to pass this year.
HAFFENREFFER: All right, David, nice to see you. Thanks for coming on the program.
SWANSON: Thanks for having me.
HAFFENREFFER: David Swanson from ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.