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The Unfinished March

August 28, 2013 Common Cents

mowlogoToday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. While many associate the day with the civil rights movement, King was concerned about economic justice as well.

A report released this week by researchers from the University of California provides a potent reminder of that fact.

Entitled To Work with Dignity: The Unfinished March Toward a Decent Minimum Wage, the report highlights marcher’s demands for a higher minimum wage and assesses how little progress the nation has made on wage standards over the last five decades.

In particular, it points out that:

  • The purchasing power of the federal minimum wage has fallen sharply in the years since the March.  The current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour is worth 23 percent less than what it was in 1968, when the real value of the minimum reached its peak.
  • Minimum wage increases do not yield job losses.  As employers have a number of ways to respond to minimum wage increases, such as lower profits, reduced turnover, or higher productivity, recent research points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.
  • States have responded to federal inaction by increasing their own minimum wages.  Nineteen states now have minimum wages that are above the federal rate and ten of them index their minimums to inflation to ensure that they maintain their purchasing power over time.

Over the past several decades, New Hampshire has largely followed the federal government’s lead on the minimum wage.  Given the downward trend in the wage’s real value and improved understanding about the economic impact of minimum wage hikes, the time has come for New Hampshire to chart a new course and make good on the legacy of the March.

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