Imagine trying to live on pay of $7.25 an hour. Even if you
managed to work full eight-hour days, you'd be making only about$58 a day, $290
a week, or a measly
$15,000 a year at most.And out of
that would come taxes and other deductions.
According to the standards of the federal government, you'd
be living in poverty. Yet $7.25 an hour is the federal minimum wage set by
Congress. State legislatures can and do set state minimums higher than the
federal rate, but never lower, much as some would like to.
Far too many workers have no choice but to take minimum wage
jobs, no choice that is, but to live in poverty.New research out of Columbia University's law school
lays out the sorry details of the minimum wage workers' very serious situation,
one that should never be tolerated in a country with such riches as ours.
In many states, the minimum wage laws are but barely
enforced, in part because there's little or no money budgeted for enforcement.
But it's also because the government agencies charged with enforcing the laws
are clearly not much interested in carrying out their mandate.
Equally at fault are the governors and state legislators
who've done virtually nothing to try to help their state's neediest workers
earn a decent living. They have to be aware that no one can make a decent
living at the current minimum wage rates.
The government officials who have been ignoring the problems
could at least try to make sure that employers pay workers the legal minimum,
however inadequate it might be.And the government officials could apply effective pressure to raise the
minimum. They could, but given their record in such matters, that's most
Congress could raise the federal minimum, but having just
recently raised it, that's extremely unlikely, even though it should be obvious
to everyone that a higher rate is needed to effectively help the many working
people who badly need help.
It may be hard to believe, but despite the great need of
workers and despite the widespread violations of the minimum wage laws, five
states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – have no agency
assigned to enforce the minimum wage laws and other laws designed to protect
The researchers also found that a majority of states do not
fine or penalize employers who violate the minimum wage laws and other wage and
hour laws. Which means that employers "have little or no incentive to obey
wage and hour laws if the only repercussion for violating them is to have to
pay wages owed in the first place."
The report warns that "without meaningful enforcement
by state regulators, some employers will simply disregard their legal
obligation if doing so allows them to save time, money or effort, putting the
majority who wish t abide by the law at a significant competitive disadvantage,
This creates a regulatory race to the bottom by states as they seek to compete
to attract businesses."
Most important, it denies workers the basic rights and
protections the law promises them but often fails to deliver.