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Sister Richelle Friedman is Director of Public Policy at the Coalition on Human Needs, in Washington, D.C. The Coalition promotes public policies that address the needs of low-income people and other vulnerable groups. It is an alliance of national organizations including civil rights, religious, labor, and professional organizations, service providers, and others concerned with the well-being of children, women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
This podcast is brought to you by one of our sponsors, the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Richelle Friedman, Director of Public Policy at the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of national organizations that promotes public policies which address the needs of low-income people and other vulnerable groups. The coalition's members include civil rights, religious, labor, and professional organizations, service providers, and others concerned with the wellbeing of children, women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Richelle, that's one of those issues that has been in the national conversation, raising the federal minimum wage, raising it to $15 an hour, I think is where the conversation is now. As you describe what it's like to try to live on $7.25 an hour for family. Would that difference to even $15 an hour--do you think that would make a significant difference?
The really short answer is yes. Because the last time the federal minimum wage was raised in 2009, and it hasn't been raised for 12 years, we look at the buying power in relationship to today. And the minimum wage today has lost 17% of its buying power. So raising the minimum wage, over time, would boost paychecks and reduce poverty. Some estimate that the minimum wage increase to $15, phased in by 2020, would increase paychecks for roughly 27 million workers and lift 1.3 million out of poverty. We also know that half of minimum wage workers are those essential workers as we define them in this COVID time, and we know how important they are.
You mentioned earlier in the service sector, how benefits are often very inadequate. And I think we have seen during COVID an especially dramatic effect on the service sector workers, which includes many of those frontline workers, the essential workers.
That's absolutely right. And regarding the minimum wage, we know that some states have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. But unbelievably, there are states--like Wyoming and Georgia, for example, have minimum wages that are at only $5.15 per hour. So there's a need to raise the minimum wage. To do so over time, will have a tremendous impact on poverty in our country.
It occurs to me that we sometimes hear comments, "Well, how can things be so bad? Look at how great the stock market is doing. Can things be so bad in our country?"
I too often hear that, and I think some would respond--and I would agree with this response--very simply: "The stock market doesn't reflect where things are on Main Street." We know, of course, that a lot of people have 401Ks and so forth in the stock market, but many people do not. And for lower income people, the stock market and where it is--it's pretty irrelevant, because they barely have enough oftentimes to meet their basic needs. They don't have enough to put money away into stocks, and they are probably in a job where they don't have a 401K.
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Transcript lightly edited for readability.