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Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick
Published: 25 July 2007

On Tuesday, July 24, millions of Americans got an increase in pay. It has been 10 years since American workers have seen an increase in the federal minimum wage.
Over the past decade, inflation has all but erased the effect of the raise, leaving millions of families behind.
As representatives in the Democratic-led Congress and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we have continued fighting to change course for America's families. The increase in the minimum wage represents a down payment on a broader agenda that seeks to ensure prosperity for all families that work for a living. We are also confronting crises by supporting legislation that will make college more affordable, reduce energy costs, provide tax breaks for middle- and low-income Americans and expand children's health coverage — all in a fiscally responsible manner.
While several states, including my home state of Michigan, have led the way with a higher minimum wage, nearly 13 million hard-working Americans across the nation will benefit from the $2.10 increase to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. This increase is particularly important in the African American community. More than 2 million hard-working African Americans will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. An estimated 900,000 Americans, represented by CBC Members, will be the direct recipients of this investment.
Women of color will benefit the most from this raise; 33 percent of the women benefiting are African American or Hispanic.
This pay raise comes at a critical time when families are living paycheck to paycheck, paying record prices at the pump and dealing with skyrocketing health care costs and rising college expenses. Many African American families are struggling to make ends meet. Over the last five years, the number of African Americans living in poverty has grown by 1.5 million, and the real median household income of African American families is down $2,676.
Rising consumer costs have hit low-wage workers especially hard as the purchasing power of the minimum wage has plummeted to its lowest level in more than half a century. At $5.15 an hour, full-time minimum wage workers have brought home $10,712 a year, which is barely above the federal poverty level for one person and nearly $6,000 below the poverty level for a family of three. Nearly half of low-wage workers in families with children are the sole breadwinners for their household. America's families do not deserve to live in poverty, while the average American CEO earns more before lunchtime in one day than a minimum wage worker earns all year.
The CBC motivation for ensuring this increase in the minimum wage is about more than just economics; it is about valuing and building stronger families. This raise will help 7.4 million women and 3.3 million parents, with about 6 million children seeing their parents' income rise. This pay raise is particularly critical to the families making the supreme sacrifice for our nation; about 50,000 military families will benefit from the increase in the minimum wage. An increase of $2.10 an hour will give families like these an additional $4,400 a year to meet critical needs. That is equivalent to 15 months of groceries, over two years of health care, 19 months of utilities, or 20 months of child care.
While Republicans prefer to make sure that the American Dream is available to a privileged few, we must ensure that we provide access and opportunity to all of America's families. Our ancestors struggled and sacrificed so that we would have a better life and a brighter future. This increase in the minimum wage represents our effort to change course, confront crises and continue their legacy. After all, our shared prosperity is the best way to tackle the challenges we face as a nation, build stronger families and ensure that the American Dream becomes a reality for future generations.

Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick is a Democrat from Michigan.

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