The idea of raising the federal minimum wage has been gaining national support. Where do you stand on that issue?
It is a shame that our country has not raised the minimum wage so that all American workers can earn a livable income. When Democrats first took control of Congress after the 2006 election, we made wage reform one of our top priorities and passed the first minimum wage increase in years.
Inflation has unfortunately slowly eaten away at that raise. When adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is now lower that it was several decades ago. If the minimum wage was indexed for inflation, it would be worth almost $11 today. Instead, the current rate of $7.25 per hour leaves workers with just $15,080 a year to pay their bills.
Imagine trying to survive on such a low amount, let alone raise a family. Yet that is what we are asking of our friends and neighbors. In many working-class American families, both parents are spending less time at home because they are working two jobs in order to make ends meet. Low-wage workers have also become an unnecessary burden on government programs as more are forced to rely on federal assistance to get by. Meanwhile, the shareholders of corporations that pay these low wages are enjoying the benefits of record profits.
That brings us to the real problem of a low minimum wage: growing income inequality. The gap between the haves and have-nots has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. The wedge creating this gap is our record low minimum wage. A low minimum wage suppresses the wages of all workers even as GDP grows. So while a select few benefit, many Americans are left living paycheck to paycheck.
Voting to raise the minimum wage does not have to be an “us against them” argument. Instead, Congress should recognize that when workers prosper, everyone benefits. More money in the pockets of American families means they will spend more on goods and services. This injects vital dollars into our local businesses to grow an economy that work for everyone. Raising the minimum wage would help restore balance and stability to our nation’s economy.
We have watched the trickle-down economics experiment fail for too long now. It is time we reinvest in policies that work. I say it’s time for trickle-up economics and that starts with a livable minimum wage.
As Congress closes out its 2013 session, what do you feel is the biggest issue left undone?
The Republican-controlled House waited until the last minute to tackle many pressing issues. While I am writing this response, we are still trying to hammer out the final details for a Farm Bill and a long-term budget deal despite already passing several extensions on both of those issues. I remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement on both this week. However, the reluctance of the Speaker to move any legislation to benefit the American people has left Congress with a lot of unfinished business.
One issue left undone that is particularly troubling is comprehensive immigration reform. Our broken system has forced 11 million people to remain hidden in the shadows. It has split apart millions of families or left them in constant fear that they too will be torn apart. It has denied students the chance to attend college to benefit themselves and our communities. And it has become a drag on our economy as employers scramble to find the workers they need, particularly on the Central Coast.
After the 2012 election, there was real momentum on both sides of the aisle to pass meaningful reform. Regardless of motive, the chance was finally there to push a bill through Congress. The Senate seized on that momentum and was able to reach a bipartisan agreement. Unfortunately, that is the closest we ever came as the Speaker never scheduled a vote here in the House. Rather than listen to the demands of the majority of Americans, he instead listened to only a minority of extreme voices who wish to see reform fail.
The good news is while the post-election environment was our best chance to pass reform in recent years; it will not be our last. Changing demographics and growing public support will continue to push this issue to the forefront. Hopefully that momentum will force Congress to pass reform in 2014 rather than choosing to kick the can down the road yet another year.