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WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) made the following statement today during a press conference with Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who have introduced a bill to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years. Hoyer, Miller and Kennedy were joined at the press conference by Dr. Heather Boushay, an economist from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, to release a new report on families making the minimum wage.
“As we go into the Christmas season, Democrats believe that Congress should act on the true meaning of Christmas – hope, generosity and good will towards others.
“Unfortunately, our Republican friends seem to have forgotten the meaning of Christmas.
“Not only are they cutting programs that help the most vulnerable Americans while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest in our society – but they are refusing to raise the pay of the hard working Americans who earn the minimum wage.
“And not only do Republicans have the wrong priorities but they are out of touch with the American people: 86 % of Americans favor increasing the federal minimum wage.
“For the nearly eight million Americans who live on the minimum wage, this holiday will look nothing like the average American’s.
“According to the National Retail Federation, the average person spends $738 on Christmas. For the minimum wage worker, this is equivalent to almost an entire month’s salary.
“Clearly, the Christmas that most Americans enjoy is out of reach for those earning the minimum wage.
“The pay for these workers has been frozen since 1997.
“If Republicans fail to enact a minimum wage increase by the end of this Congress, this will be the longest period that wages for minimum wage workers have been frozen.
“And, as we all know, inflation means that not increasing the minimum wage is not just a pay freeze, but a pay-cut.
“The real value of the minimum wage is near its lowest point in 50 years.
If the minimum wage in 2005 was worth what it was worth in 1968, it would be $8.88/hour -- not $5.15.
“The Center for Economic and Policy Research has just completed a study – which we are releasing here today- that shows us how hard this Christmas will be for minimum wage workers.
“Our other speakers will go into further detail, but let me point out one fact from this report that illustrates how hard this holiday season will be for minimum wage earners.
“The typical American family spends about $34,920 a year to purchase just the basics – meaning housing, groceries, healthcare, and childcare.
“However, a full-time minimum wage worker earns only $10,300 per year -- one-third of this average budget.
“This year, with gasoline prices up 37% and home heating costs up 21.6% these workers will fall even farther behind.
“My colleagues George Miller and Ted Kennedy have introduced a fair bill to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 over two years.
“Today’s report shows what a difference this would make in the lives of those earning the minimum wage – and how it would brighten their holiday season.
“This is an issue of fairness and decency.
“I urge congress to pass the Kennedy/Miller bill before we leave to enjoy our holiday.”