March 25, 2014 -- I have 17 million reasons for wanting to increase the minimum wage. Yes, 17 million—the number of children whose lives would be a little more secure if their moms and dads earned at least $10.10 an hour.
When I was in junior high, my daddy had a heart attack. He was home for a while, the medical bills piled up, and we lost our family station wagon.
So my mother did what she had to do: She went to work answering the phones at Sears. The job paid only minimum wage, but it was enough to make sure we could keep our home.
No one should work full time and live in poverty. In 1968, the minimum wage was high enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. In 1980, the minimum wage was at least high enough to keep a family of two out of poverty. Today, the minimum wage leaves a working parent with one child in poverty. This is fundamentally wrong.
For a long time, as our country got richer, both investors and workers made more money. The pie got bigger and we all got a little more. But now the benefits go to those at the top. If minimum wage had kept up with increases in productivity, it would be $22 an hour today. But it didn't – and today millions of hard-working moms and dads work full-time and still live in poverty.
Who would benefit from a minimum wage increase? The numbers tell the story: 88% are adults, and one in four has kids. More than 15 million women would see their pay go up, including 4.8 million working mothers—more than one-fifth of all working mothers with a child under the age of 18.
Raising the minimum wage is good economics. It means that people will have more money to spend, and that helps propel the economy forward and give a much-needed boost to many small businesses. Besides, with a higher minimum wage, fewer people will need to count on food stamps or other kinds of government assistance to feed their families. A higher wage means people can provide more for themselves.
So why have the Republicans refused to budge on the minimum wage? Who are they protecting? Certainly not the families and their 17 million children who would be helped.
Who doesn’t want an increase in the minimum wage? Businesses that have already made it big don’t want any increase in wages that might cut into their profits. The system is rigged in their favor, and they have an army of lawyers and an army of lobbyists to make certain that the system stays tilted their way. Powerful interests might need to be dragged kicking and screaming to raise the minimum wage, but I'm going to keep fighting along with the rest of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate. This is an economic issue, but it is also a moral imperative.
When I was growing up, full-time work would keep your family out of poverty. Now, the game is rigged against working families. It doesn’t have to be this way. For more than a generation now, the middle class has been squeezed, chipped at, and hammered. A higher minimum wage will help build a stronger foundation to grow America’s middle class.
Raising the minimum wage is one way we can start to level the playing field for working families. We should be honoring and rewarding work, and we should be making sure that families who work full time have the chance to raise themselves out of poverty. It’s time to increase the minimum wage for hardworking men and women across the country.
When I think about the minimum wage, I think about my mom and what she did for us. And then I think about the 17 million kids whose moms or dads could do more for their families, if they just had a fighting chance.
RELATED STORIESWhy the Student Loan Problem Is Even Worse Than You Think
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company, its affiliates, or ABC News.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Previously she served as Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was a professor at Harvard Law School. She is the author of “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke” and several other books.