The Fight for Higher Minimum Wage

The Fight for Higher Minimum Wage
CNN Financial: CNN Money Morning
April 3, 2002
Guest: David Swanson

Host: David Haffenreffer


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


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

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

SWANSON: Thanks for having me.

HAFFENREFFER: David Swanson from ACORN, which stands for the Association of
Community Organizations for Reform Now.