Senator Tom Harkin:
Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 Per Hour
June 25, 2013
Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing:
“Building a Foundation of Fairness: 75 Years of the Minimum Wage”
“Today marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Fair Labor
Standards Act by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 25th, 1938. The
FLSA was a landmark achievement. After years of struggle, this national
law set a floor under wages, limited working hours by requiring overtime
pay, and set out to eliminate child labor. It was born out of the Great
Depression, a time of falling wages, falling consumption, widespread
unemployment, and pervasive poverty and hunger.
“President Roosevelt and minimum wage proponents of the time knew that a
fair minimum wage was a critical way to reverse these trends—to end the
exploitation of workers, to reduce dependence on charity and public
assistance, and to raise wages and consumption to help the economy. Upon
signing the Fair Labor Standards Act, FDR said, ‘Except perhaps for the
Social Security Act, it is the most far-reaching, the most far-sighted
program for the benefit of workers ever adopted here or in any other
“The arguments against a minimum wage then were the same that we hear
today: that it would harm the economy, that it would hurt the people it
was meant to help, and that it was antithetical to freedom and liberty.
One opponent, from the National Publishers Association, declared that
the impacts of a minimum wage would be akin to the fall of Rome, and
that the inevitable result would be ‘distress, misery and despair.’ A
House member similarly predicted economic catastrophe: ‘This bill will
squeeze the little businessman out of existence, encourage and foster
monopoly, increase the cost of living to the consumer, and make it
impossible for the farmers to employ labor, while destroying much of the
domestic market for his products.’
“President Roosevelt had a strong response to these critics: he said,
‘Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000.00 a
day, who has been turning his employees over to the Government relief
rolls in order to preserve his company’s undistributed reserves, tell
you…that a wage of $11.00 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on
all American industry.’ And we know that he was right, and the economic
catastrophes predicted by critics did not come to pass.
“Indeed, for decades after its passage, the minimum wage was an accepted
and lauded national policy. President Eisenhower proposed a raise
himself. Every President since FDR, excepting only Presidents Ford and
Reagan, has signed an increase to the minimum wage. Until recently, the
debate has always been about how much to raise the wage, not whether to
raise it at all.
“The protections of the minimum wage have also been expanded over the
years, covering more and more occupations. Today the FLSA covers 90
percent of the workforce. Interestingly, while the law originally
exempted occupations that were disproportionately held by women and
people of color, today, these very workers disproportionately benefit
from raises in the minimum wage.
“And history shows us the important role that the minimum wage plays as
a national standard in our economy. For decades, the minimum wage was
strong, setting a fair foundation for our economy. The minimum wage
lifted families out of poverty, reduced inequality, and kept low-wage
workers’ wages in line with average wages. It put money in the pockets
of consumers, helping businesses and the economy to grow. It helped
stabilize the low-wage workforce, reducing turnover and saving
businesses money in the process. We will hear more today from our panel
about the great contributions that the minimum wage has made to our
economy and to America’s workers and their families.
“But as we celebrate the minimum wage, we must also recognize that it is
no longer achieving its potential benefits, for workers or our economy.
Unfortunately, over the past several decades, the minimum wage has not
kept up as the rest of the economy has moved forward. As productivity
has risen, the value of the minimum wage has fallen. It has nearly a
third less buying power than at its peak in 1968.
“Workers cannot afford to live on the minimum wage, let alone support a
family. The wage today, $7.25 per hour, means only $15,000 per year for
full time, year-round work. Families with a full-time minimum wage
breadwinner fall nearly 20 percent below the poverty line.
“That simply shouldn’t happen. In a nation as rich as ours, no one who
works hard for a living should have to live in poverty, unable to put
food on the table, or pay the electricity bill, or keep up with the
rent. We understood this fundamental moral truth in the past, but
somehow we’ve forgotten it.
is why I have introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, to raise the
minimum wage to $10.10 per hour—in three steps—and then to index the
minimum wage to inflation. This modest increase—which is well in line
with previous increases throughout history—will give 30 million
Americans a higher paycheck, including the parents of 18 million
children. We are fortunate today to have with us in the audience a group
of workers who will directly benefit from a minimum wage increase. They
were at the White House this morning celebrating the FLSA and discussing
the need to raise the minimum wage, and I’m so pleased they can be with
us here this afternoon. Thank you all for coming.
“And, of course, we also have an extremely distinguished panel of
witnesses here today, including our Acting Secretary of Labor, Seth
Harris. Today’s panelists will discuss the past, present, and future of
the federal minimum wage, and the role that this important labor
standard has played in helping workers, businesses, and our economy. I
look forward to our discussion.”