This Labor Day, we must renew our commitment to raising the minimum wage

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Millions of Americans spend 12 or more hours a day working in multiple low-wage jobs. They work in restaurants, coffee shops, hospitals, call centers, and retail shops. They are janitors, healthcare aides, and customer service agents. They work 60-70 hours a week just to survive, never mind putting money aside to purchase a home or plan for their retirement.

Throughout the United States, wages have been stagnant for the last 40 years. Any gains workers made in wage increases have been eaten up by inflation. Minimum wage increases have been so small and so rare that low-wage workers have actually lost money over the past couple of decades.

Workers are more productive than ever – but our wages do not reflect the hard work we do. If the minimum wage were tied to productivity, the minimum wage would be over $18 an hour.

This is why we must renew our commitment to raising the minimum wage.

Two years ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison filed legislation to push the minimum wage up to $15 by 2024. The bill would have also eliminated the tipped minimum wage, which pushes the employer’s responsibility for paying wages onto the customer, and which has not been increased since 1991.

EPI President Lawrence Mishel said, “Raising the minimum wage to $15 will directly help nearly a third of the workforce, promote robust wage growth, and boost the economy.”

This gradual increase would lift the wages of an estimated 40 million Americans right here in New Hampshire, and an increase to $15 an hour would directly affect 108,000 workers and indirectly affect another 80,000 more.

These are not just teenagers working their first jobs. These are young adults trying to make it on their own. These are mothers and fathers. These are seniors who cannot afford to live on their Social Security alone.

According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, 70 percent of the people who would benefit from a $15 minimum wage are older than 25 and 20 percent of them have children of their own.

These workers and their families are teetering on the edge of poverty. The majority of these workers have less than $500 in savings and nothing set aside towards their retirement.

Every year that goes by without a minimum wage increase, more and more workers fall into poverty. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and yet nearly 20 percent of our children don’t know when their next meal will be. That’s not the children’s fault. It’s the result of America’s low-wage economy.

It’s basic math: the current minimum wage is too low for families to survive without welfare benefits. In New Hampshire, 18.3 percent of workers need welfare benefits. If the minimum wage was raised to $15, those workers would not need welfare.

It’s shameful that so many workers are being forced onto welfare by their low wages. It’s shameful that millions of America’s children are going to bed hungry. It’s shameful that politicians complain about the cost of our welfare system, without admitting that welfare costs are directly related to the minimum wage.

It is time that we start acting like the nation we claim to be.

It’s time to raise the minimum wage so that no one who works full time has to live in poverty.

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News