October 14, 1998
October 14, 1998

Parents who work hard and play by the rules should not have to raise their children in poverty.

Yet, for millions of Americans in minimum-wage jobs -- custodians and department-store clerks, home health-care aides and child-care workers -- as hard as they work, they still struggle to stay afloat. It's time to give them a raise.

It's time to give Diane Mitchell of Brockton, Mass., a raise. Diane, a single mother of three, earns $5.90 an hour at an industrial laundry. She explains that making ends meet is a "constant struggle. Last month, I had my electricity turned off because I had to pay my gas bill. I'm always juggling food and utilities."

Diane knows that an increase of $40 a week doesn't sound like much to most people, but it is very important for her and her family. She won't have to choose between paying the electric bill and the gas bill, and she'll be able to feed her family throughout the month.

It's time to give Cathy Adams, a mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 11, and a home health aide from Viola, Ill., a raise. Cathy works over 11 hours a day, five days a week, caring for a woman with multiple sclerosis. She bathes her, dresses her and feeds her. She does her grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning. She runs errands and schedules doctor's appointments. Cathy likes her job but finds it hard to live on $5.30 an hour. "I literally live paycheck to paycheck," she says. "After paying the bills, whatever is left over goes to groceries. I have $9 in my savings account and worry about being able to save for my girls' education."

Cathy and Diane are not alone. That is why I was so disappointed last month when almost every Republican Senator voted against my husband's proposal to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 over the next two years -- a proposal that would affect 12 million Americans. For those who work full time, this increase would add $2,000 per year to their paychecks.

Let's talk about what $2,000 a year can mean to a family getting by on a minimum-wage paycheck: It can mean over half a year of groceries or seven months of rent. It can mean a year and a half of tuition and fees at a two-year college or more than 15 months of utilities.

Our economy is the strongest it's been in a generation. Since my husband took office, more than 16.7 million jobs have been created. Inflation is down, and unemployment has dropped to its lowest level in 28 years.

Our prosperity is causing incomes to rise and lifting millions out of poverty. Since 1993, when the President launched his economic plan, the typical American family's income has risen more than $3,500, and the overall poverty rate has fallen to 13.3 percent.

Americans at the bottom of the income ladder have done the best, thanks in large measure to the last boost in the minimum wage -- from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour -- which the President signed into law in 1996.

Combined with the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax cut for working families, this increase raised a full-time worker's annual income from about $10,000 to over $13,000. This is the good news.

The bad news is that there are still millions of workers in this country trying to raise a family and struggling to pay their bills -- workers like Cathy and Diane.

After the 1996 wage boost, 10 million American workers got a raise, and despite the dire predictions of some critics, millions of new jobs were created, and the unemployment rate fell dramatically. For teenagers, African Americans and women, employment rates have risen.

The minimum wage is a women's issue, a children's issue, a civil rights issue, a labor issue, a family issue. Above all, it is a fairness issue, a dignity issue and an issue of responsibility. The wealthiest nation on Earth can afford to do better for its citizens.

A vote against increasing the minimum wage at a time when we have low unemployment and low inflation -- when our prosperity and our economic policies are beginning to improve the lives of millions -- is wrong. We should not deny any American who works hard and pays taxes the opportunity to participate in our prosperity.

The President has said, "If we value work and we value family, we should increase the value of the minimum wage." This is why he will continue to fight to increase the minimum wage and why I hope every member of Congress will support him.


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