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What Would Boosting the Minimum Wage Mean for Seniors?

Viewpoint

The Proposal

The nation’s current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been increased since 2007.  In 2013, President Obama proposed increasing the nation’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.  The Raise the Wage Act of 2015 (S. 1150 and H.R. 2150), introduced by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Bobby Scott, would increase the minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour in three steps – to $8.00 three months after enactment, $10.00 after two years, $11.00 after three years and $12.00 after four years.  Although many retirees may question what impact an increase in the minimum wage would have on their lives, the increase could make a difference for seniors.

Who Would Be Affected?

A common myth, perpetuated by the media, is that an increase in the minimum wage would primarily affect teenagers.  To the contrary, 89 percent of the 35 million workers who would benefit by an increase are age 20 or older, and 56 percent are women. More affected workers are age 55 or older than are teenagers.  In fact, 15.3 percent of those who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage are age 55 or older, as compared to 10.7 percent of teenagers.  Although the majority of workers who would benefit from increasing the minimum wage are white (53.2 percent), more than one-third (34.7 percent) of all African Americans would receive higher pay, while nearly 40 percent (37.8 percent) of all Latinos would benefit. 

What Would An Increase Mean For The Economy?

Despite skeptics’ claims to the contrary, research conducted by leading economists has shown that modest increases in the minimum wage have a minimal impact on unemployment.  In fact, 600 economists, including 7 Nobel Prize winners, wrote to President Obama and Congressional leaders citing developments in academic research demonstrating that increases in the minimum wage have little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers.

Furthermore, low-wage workers, like many Social Security recipients, need every penny of their monthly checks to make ends meet, so they will spend any additional earnings to meet their basic needs.  This contrasts with higher wage-earners, who tend to save a portion of any additional income.   Any increased spending by low-wage earners will stimulate the overall economy.  Additionally, an increase in the minimum wage will help reduce income inequality by setting a higher floor at the low end of the wage scale.

What Is The Impact On Seniors?

For those 15 percent of affected workers who are age 55 and older, an increase from $7.25 per hour to $12.00 per hour will make an enormous difference in a senior’s quality of life.  An individual working fulltime at the current minimum wage earns approximately $15,000 per year, while a retiree’s Social Security benefit averages about the same -- $15,000 per year.  An increase to $12.00 per hour would increase a full-time worker’s earnings to almost $25,000 per year. For those working seniors whose wages are increased, the increased earnings would be reflected in their Social Security benefit.    

The increase in minimum wage is not simply an economic issue.  It is a moral imperative for the nation to stand behind the tenet that people who work hard and play by the rules should be able to support themselves.  The increase will begin to address the unacceptable income divide in this country.  

The Increase Should Extend To Social Security Benefits

If we as a nation agree that $15,000 per year is insufficient for a minimum wage-earner, we must also agree it is insufficient for a Social Security retiree who has worked hard all of his or her life and now finds it difficult to make ends meet. To that end, the National Committee continues its “Boost Social Security Now” campaign to urge Congress to pass legislation that would improve benefits and strengthen Social Security’s financing http://www.ncpssm.org/Portals/0/pdf/boost-ss-viewpoint.pdf.

The campaign includes proposals to increase benefits, on average, by $70 per month for newly-eligible retirees, address the issue of the inadequate COLAs (or no COLAs), and increase benefits for seniors who have been receiving Social Security for a long time. The benefits that accrue to the economy as a result of increases in the minimum wage would be just as substantial with increases in Social Security benefit levels.

Conclusion

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare endorses an increase in the minimum wage to $12.00 per hour and an increase in Social Security benefit levels to assist seniors and the overall economy and reduce the unacceptable income divide in our nation.

Government Relations & Policy, June 2016







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