Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

January 23, 2014

Another View: Working poor need some attention, too

Any discussion about raising the minimum wage is certain to touch on the standard arguments.

Opponents will say it would unfairly burden employers — especially small businesses. A higher minimum wage would prevent employers from hiring more entry-level workers.

Proponents will counter that increasing the minimum wage would help workers earn enough to live, not simply exist. A growing portion of the ground-floor jobs meant for teens to enter the working world are held by adults with families to support

The campaign to raise fast-food workers’ starting pay to $15 might be unrealistic. Like the push to raise the minimum wage, however, it speaks to an indisputable fact: The gap between rich and poor is expanding, and the latter is feeling the pain.

The think tank Pew Research Center reports the top 7 percent of all U.S. households own 63 percent of America’s wealth. In 2012, the incomes of the top 1 percent grew nearly 20 percent compared with a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent.

The ranks of America’s poor reached 49.7 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census. Released in November, the report used a revised formula. The previous number the Census Bureau announced in September was a record 46.5 million, or 15 percent of the nation’s population. The new numbers comprise 16 percent.

More working-age adults are taking low-wage jobs. Seniors 65 and older saw the largest increases in poverty in the revised formula — from 9.1 percent to 14.8 percent. Medical expenses — Medicare premiums, deductibles and other costs — accounted for the higher poverty rate.

Higher minimum wages alone won’t reduce the wealth gap. They might not even reduce the increasing numbers of the working poor.

But they constitute a response to America’s deepening economic inequality. If they aren’t remedies, at least they attempt to lessen the pain.

With the start of 2014, 13 states increased their minimum wage standards. It is doubtful advocates of the wage increase thought the working poor would be made whole, but they apparently thought something had to be done.

Michigan is likely to see a bigger push to raise its $7.40-an-hour minimum wage — and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Working people — especially the working poor — have sacrificed in recent years. There is reason to see to their needs.

Times Herald, Port Huron

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