Minimum wage workers get Labor Secretary’s ear at Our Daily Bread

May 14, 2013

By Maria Wiering

mwiering@CatholicReview.org

Twitter: @ReviewWiering

Laura Bailey makes $7.80 working at Wendy’s, but most of her income goes to transportation to and from work, making money tight for her and her teenage daughter, she said May 14 at a roundtable for minimum wage workers.

An increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 “would do wonders” for her budget, she said.

Bailey was among 19 people who shared their stories with Seth D. Harris, acting U.S. secretary of labor, who hosted the roundtable at Our Daily Bread Employment Center, a Catholic Charities program in Baltimore. The event was the 23rd of its kind hosted by the Department of Labor in an effort to increase support for raising the minimum wage by the end of 2015.

A full-time worker making minimum wage earns $14,500 a year, putting a family of four under the poverty line. Harris estimates that 15 million workers would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.

In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama championed an increase in minimum wage to $9 and indexing it to inflation. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to increase the wage, but not along the outlines of the president’s plan.

Harris hopes the policy will gain bipartisan support, pointing to past Republican-backed efforts to raise the wage. He said the proposal has “overwhelming support in the country,” which should help it garner congressional support.

“Minimum wage and low wage workers are the most passionate, effective and articulate advocates for the policy the president has proposed,” Harris said.

In 19 states and the District of Columbia, the minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum wage. Maryland’s wage is even with the federal level, and recent efforts in the General Assembly to raise it have failed. Congress last raised the minimum wage in 2009.

Roundtable participants, including several who receive assistance through Catholic Charities, described choosing between buying food and paying utilities, working multiple part-time jobs but still living paycheck to paycheck, and having no savings for unexpected expenses.

“I’m the type of person that can do it, but I’m not getting the chance,” said Maurice Brown, 23, who earns $8 working at a 7-Eleven.

Many of Catholic Charities’ clients are not jobless, but rather members of the working poor who need financial assistance, a meal, or help finding a better paying job, said Mary Anne O’Donnell, director of Catholic Charities’ community services division.

In the past, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported raising the minimum wage as an economic justice issue.

A federal minimum wage was established in 1938 and has been increased 22 times.

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