Congress should raise the minimum wage to make sure work is worthwhile for all Americans.
When it does so, it should also link future increases in the minimum wage to the inflation rate so we don't have to repeat this political battle over and over again.
The main argument against raising the minimum wage is that it will actually reduce the number of jobs available as employers try to control their overall labor costs.
That argument is valid, but history indicates that the impact of a higher minimum wage on job numbers is not dramatic.
And while some jobs may be lost, we think it's a worthwhile tradeoff to give millions of Americans something a little closer to a family-sustaining income.
A full-time worker earning the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (it's $7.40 in Michigan and more than $8 in eight states) makes $15,080 a year, less than the official poverty level income of $15,510 for an adult with one dependent.
A full-time job should be more economically rewarding than that - no job should pay so little that someone sees welfare or unemployment benefits as an attractive alternative to working.
Opponents of a higher minimum wage also point out that most jobs that pay that rate were never meant to support a family, but were designed for teenagers and others just getting their start in the workforce.
That may have been true in the past, but if you look at the face behind the fast-food counter today it's as often an adult as a high school student.
The slow recovery from the recession has led many family "breadwinners" to take jobs that were once the province of students earning a little pocket money. New research by University of Massachusetts Boston economists Randy Alberda and Michael Carr, reported on CNN Money, that factors out students and other non-breadwinners found that 21 million Americans are trying to support households on low-wage jobs (the economists set their threshold at a little more than $11).
In any case, telling workers at the bottom of the economic ladder that they don't deserve an extra dollar or two at the same time incomes are soaring for people at the top end strikes us as churlish.
If a higher minimum wage means paying a little more for a hamburger or for the office custodial service, those are costs we're willing to accept.
How much to raise the minimum wage is a difficult question. Raising the level to $10.10 an hour, as proposed by Democrats in Congress, would put the minimum wage near its all-time high in inflation-adjusted terms. (California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a law that will raise that state's minimum wage to $10.10; Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed raising his state's minimum from $8.25 to $10.)
Increasing the minimum wage to somewhere in the $8 to $9 range would put the rate near its historic average in terms of buying power, and we believe that most employers could absorb such an increase without major dislocation.
When a higher minimum wage is established, it should be linked to the Consumer Price Index so that it can be adjusted annually without congressional action. We shouldn't be making this issue a political football every four or five years.
Raising the minimum wage in 2014 is the right thing to do, even if it comes with some drawbacks. Americans willing to work should receive a decent reward for their effort.
The slow recovery from the recession has led many family "breadwinners" to take jobs that were once the province of students earning a little pocket money.