August 1, 2007 Edition

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Upcoming minimum wage
increase is down-payment
for shared prosperity

By Congressman
Marion Berry

On July 24, millions of Americans received a pay raise for the first time in 10 years. It has been 10 years since American workers have seen an increase in the federal minimum wage, and over the past decade, inflation has eroded the effect of the previous raise.

Between skyrocketing gas prices and healthcare costs, coupled with the increasing cost of living expenses like rent and food, America's working and middle classes are being squeezed into poverty. These 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, a full-time minimum wage worker makes $10,712 a year ~ barely above the federal poverty level for one person and nearly $6,000 below the poverty level for a family of three.

When the new majority in Congress went to work at the beginning of this year, we had a vision to restore and strengthen the middle class by working to achieve shared prosperity. This increase in the federal minimum wage is a down-payment on a broader American agenda for families, which includes making college more affordable, reducing energy costs, tax breaks for middle and low-income Americans and expanding children's health coverage.

Under this legislation, the first step of the minimum wage increase went into effect on July 24 when it increased from $5.15 to $5.85 and will continue to rise annually for two years, when it will finally reach $7.25 in 2009.

Nationwide, nearly 13 million hard-working Americans will benefit from raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Over 221,000 Arkansans will benefit from the final minimum wage increase, which is scheduled to be implemented in phases over the next two years.

The increase of $2.10 an hour will give families an additional $4,400 a year to meet critical needs. This pay raise will positively impact millions of Americans including an estimated 7.4 million women, 3.3 million parents and 6 million children. I support the increase because it will put much-needed dollars in the hands of workers who are often forced to choose between paying their electric bill and buying clothing for their children.

This increase is long overdue. An honest day's work should earn a fair day's pay. No one who works full time should be forced to live in poverty. Raising the salary of those who receive the low-wages is not only a matter of fairness ~ it's the right thing to do for America's hardest working families.

Marion Berry of Gillett represents Arkansas' 1st Congressional District and is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees.

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