August 31, 2023
At the behest of labor activists, in 1894, Congress made the first Monday in September a federal holiday in recognition of the many contributions of workers to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being. Almost 130 years later, while Labor Day still provides a time to celebrate the social impact and economic achievements of workers, it should also be an opportunity to take action to address inadequate wages, poor working conditions, and lack of job supports (e.g., affordable child care, family and medical leave, and predictable schedules). These inequities, which contribute to the widening economic gap, with virtually all economic growth going to the top earners, prevent too many workers from enjoying Labor Day when they are worrying about not being able to pay rent or put food on the table.
While there is much to do to ensure that workers can achieve economic and food security, one key action to take is to support efforts to raise the minimum wage.
Millions of people work 40 hours or more a week, oftentimes juggling multiple jobs, but for many, the wages they are paid are insufficient to pay their bills, support their families, achieve economic mobility, or put food on the table.
The federal minimum hourly wage is just $7.25 and has not increased since 2009. Additionally, millions of tipped workers, youth, and people with disabilities are not even paid the minimum wage due to federal subminimum wage policies. While 30 states and D.C. have increased their minimum wage since January 2014, federal action to increase the federal minimum wage is of tantamount importance to ensure that all workers can achieve greater economic security.
Lack of adequate wages and food insecurity are inextricably linked. Rates of food insecurity in 2021 were significantly higher than the national average (10.2 percent) for households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (26.5 percent).
A full-time worker (40 hours per week, 52 weeks and for some with no paid time off for vacation or sick leave) earning the federal minimum wage makes $15,080 a year. These wages are not enough to lift that worker out of poverty even if they are supporting just themselves, let alone a child or other household members. These insufficient wages put that worker at risk for food insecurity as their wages are well below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
Federal Poverty Line (FPL) Guidelines
Source: 2023 Poverty Guidelines
Support the Raise the Wage Act of 2023 (H.R.4889/S.2488). This legislation will boost workers’ wages by gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour by 2028 and give roughly 28 million Americans a long overdue raise. Increasing the minimum wage would significantly benefit working women and their families as well as help to promote racial justice.
Ultimately, to end hunger in the U.S., we must build an economy where growth and prosperity are shared in an equitable way. That means not only restoring the value of the minimum wage, but also supporting higher wages for struggling workers, enforcing wage and hour laws, creating more robust public and private jobs, and establishing parental leave policies and child care supports that make such work feasible. When we have accomplished this, then we can truly celebrate Labor Day.