A raise is just the first step. Falling real wages is at the heart of what is wrong today.
(Photo: Richard Drew, AP)
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The U.S. Senate will begin debate soon on Sen. Tom Harkin’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. The increase is critical for the 1.7 million workers who earn the minimum wage. But perhaps more importantly, it is a critical first step toward addressing the problem of a generation of flat and falling wages for the majority of the American workforce.
Falling real wages is at the heart of what is wrong with America today — economically, politically and morally. We have arrived at a moment when raising wages must be more than a one-time policy prescription. Raising wages must be a framework through which to build a new economic model that is centered on the value of work.
Global leaders from President Obama to Pope Francis recently have decried the dangerous and growing inequality that is defining day-to-day life in America. They are right to sound this alarm, but the shocking inequality in our country is an effect, not a cause. The cause is an economic structure that has disassociated wages from productivity and, in doing so, has broken the basic American social contract — that if you work hard, you can get ahead and enjoy a comfortable life.