17 Million Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage

I have 17 million reasons for wanting to increase the minimum wage. Yes, 17 million—the number of children whose lives would be a little more secure if their moms and dads earned at least $10.10 an hour.

When I was in junior high, my daddy had a heart attack. He was home for a while, the medical bills piled up, and we lost our family station wagon.

So my mother did what she had to do: She went to work answering the phones at Sears. The job paid only minimum wage, but it was enough to make sure we could keep our home.

No one should work full time and live in poverty. In 1968, the minimum wage was high enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. In 1980, the minimum wage was at least high enough to keep a family of two out of poverty. Today, the minimum wage leaves a working parent with one child in poverty. This is fundamentally wrong.

For a long time, as our country got richer, both investors and workers made more money. The pie got bigger and we all got a little more. But now the benefits go to those at the top. If minimum wage had kept up with increases in productivity, it would be $22 an hour today. But it didn’t – and today millions of hard-working moms and dads work full-time and still live in poverty.

Who would benefit from a minimum wage increase? The numbers tell the story: 88% are adults, and one in four has kids. More than 15 million women would see their pay go up, including 4.8 million working mothers—more than one-fifth of all working mothers with a child under the age of 18.

Raising the minimum wage is good economics. It means that people will have more money to spend, and that helps propel the economy forward and give a much-needed boost to many small businesses. Besides, with a higher minimum wage, fewer people will need to count on food stamps or other kinds of government assistance to feed their families. A higher wage means people can provide more for themselves.

So why have the Republicans refused to budge on the minimum wage? Who are they protecting? Certainly not the families and their 17 million children who would be helped.

Who doesn’t want an increase in the minimum wage? Businesses that have already made it big don’t want any increase in wages that might cut into their profits. The system is rigged in their favor, and they have an army of lawyers and an army of lobbyists to make certain that the system stays tilted their way. Powerful interests might need to be dragged kicking and screaming to raise the minimum wage, but I’m going to keep fighting along with the rest of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate. This is an economic issue, but it is also a moral imperative.

When I was growing up, full-time work would keep your family out of poverty. Now, the game is rigged against working families. It doesn’t have to be this way. For more than a generation now, the middle class has been squeezed, chipped at, and hammered. A higher minimum wage will help build a stronger foundation to grow America’s middle class.

Raising the minimum wage is one way we can start to level the playing field for working families. We should be honoring and rewarding work, and we should be making sure that families who work full time have the chance to raise themselves out of poverty. It’s time to increase the minimum wage for hardworking men and women across the country.

When I think about the minimum wage, I think about my mom and what she did for us. And then I think about the 17 million kids whose moms or dads could do more for their families, if they just had a fighting chance.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Previously she served as Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was a professor at Harvard Law School. She is the author of “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke” and several other books.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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7 Comments / Post A Comment

ATF (#4,229)

The vote I cast for EDubs will probably always be the vote I was most proud to cast.

Edited to add that I do wonder when our values as a society got so messed up. I don’t actually care that “anyone” could flip a hamburger or change a bed, the fact remains that those acts are work and work should be rewarded with a wage someone can live on. We do ourselves no favor as a society to make the lives of those willing to work so hard.

samburger (#5,489)

@ATF preach

E$ (#1,636)

@ATF besides, unless we all completely, overnight changed our behavior patterns radically, we’ll still need people to do those jobs. I can make my own coffee most of the time, but on the off chance I don’t, it sure is nice that I can go into a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks to get it. And the people who make coffee there deserve to be able to live out of poverty. What does it mean when “Just get a job!” is shouted even louder, yet still doesn’t solve any problems?

honey cowl (#1,510)

@E$ I can’t shout “I AGREE WITH YOU!” loud enough right now

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

Senator Warren is the best. That’s really all I have to add here.

aetataureate (#1,310)


BGG (#6,265)

I’ll play devil’s advocate. I agree that families living in poverty need some sort of help. I agree that corporate profits are ridiculous and those companies wield great influence in Washington. However, raising minimum wage does have other consequences. Why not raise it to $50/hr? $100? $200? More money in our pockets means more spending and that’s “good economics”. What about businesses that aren’t giant corporate interests but small businesses? They don’t have the monster profits to absorb a wage increase. So it either hurts their business bottom line, or it’s passed on to the consumer. Now that higher wage isn’t going as far again. Sounds like a vicious circle.

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