In the richest country on the planet, where the average CEO makes in a day what it takes the average worker a year to earn, the United States Senate decided to play political games this week with the country’s most vulnerable citizens and killed a bill that would increase the hourly minimum wage to a paltry $7.25 over two years. The current federal minimum wage is $5.15 and has not been raised in more than a decade. During this time, the rich have enjoyed unparalleled gains in wealth, taxes on upper incomes have been cut, and CEOs have benefited from the largest transfer of wealth of its kind in the history of the world. The working poor –and let my conservative friends note that we are talking about American workers here, not deadbeats or welfare cheats– have, it seems, too few allies in the halls of an institution that should be their salvation, if any should. And so their effort to make their way in the world, to play by the rules and to work hard, suffers another setback.
It is a shame beyond description that millions of Americans are left to struggle with pennies more than $5 an hour in a land forged upon principles of opportunity, fairness and respect for the individual. They are the economic equivalents of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. And like those courageous souls still struggling to rebuild their lives after being struck by nature’s sometimes harsh hand, it is the inaction of government and the failure of leadership that inflicts the cruelest blow and the most difficult hardship from which to recover.
The Senate had an opportunity to repair a demonstrable wrong and join with the House which has already passed legislation to increase the minimum wage. By failing to set aside partisan differences and give relief to the neediest, the United States Senate demeaned itself and betrayed those who looked to it for hope. In so doing, its actions are, beyond question, the Outrage of the Week.