Yes, fight for $15

8/13/2016, 8:27 a.m.

This weekend, Richmond will be filled with people from across the state and the nation who are taking a positive stand for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

For millions of Americans who are working for the paltry minimum now paid under federal law, there is no need to explain why such an increase is essential.

For others who live in ivory towers or gated communities, let us explain:

The current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour puts a single person $2,000 above the federal poverty level of $11,880 and a single parent trying to raise a child $2,000 below the federal poverty threshold of $16,020.

With the cost of housing, health care, transportation and food rising, how can one expect to find adequate housing and healthy food with these incomes?

Many of these workers do more than flip hamburgers for a living. They work in day care centers looking after your children, work as aides in nursing homes and hospitals providing care to your mother or grandmother day to day, ring up your groceries and impulse purchases at all kinds of stores and lifeguard at your neighborhood pools and with the ski patrol on the slopes you frequent.

Their work provides value well beyond what they get in their paycheck every two weeks.

And as they struggle to put food on their table or pay the rent or buy school supplies for their children, they often take a second or third job to make ends meet or to pay the fees to give their children opportunities to play sports, have their photo in the yearbook, go on a field trip or to attend prom.

About 22 percent of children in the United States live in poverty, according to the National Center for Childhood Poverty. Such poverty wages have a negative impact on the health and educational success of millions of youngsters and create a myriad of problems for their futures.

Raising the minimum wage would not be a drain on the economy, as many conservatives argue. Instead, as several noted economists have pointed out, these low-wage workers would stimulate the economy because they would spend the additional income. That means businesses, including many where low-wage workers are employed, would benefit.

The income and wealth gaps in this nation, in which the top 1 percent hold 99 percent of the wealth, speak to the greed and moral imbalance that prevents companies from sharing the profits earned on the backs of low-wage workers. Statistics show that the gap between chief executives of major U.S. companies and the median pay of their workers is enormous, with the average CEO making 204 times the median worker salary.

Already, 26 states have raised their minimum wages above the federal level. California, New York and the District of Columbia have enacted laws raising minimum pay to $15 per hour within the next six years. So far, none of those states’ economies have tanked.

A 2014 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 13 states that increased the minimum wage saw employment increase faster than states that remained at $7.25.

We welcome the Fight for $15 advocates and Dr. William J. Barber of North Carolina, who spoke so eloquently last month at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia about the moral compass of the nation and how this is not a fight of liberal versus conservative, but one of right versus wrong.

Convention organizers are very astute to use Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy whose rebel leaders preferred to burn down the city and flee rather than to respect the freedom and dignity of their African-American brothers and sisters whom they held and worked in slavery.

What have we learned in the 151 years since?