Commentary

01.06.15

Is 15 Cents High Enough?

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A new year and a new minimum wage.

On January 1, Ohio increased its hourly minimum wage from $7.95 to $8.10—85 cents higher than the federal minimum wage. The tipped wage also increased to $4.05—7 cents higher. This modest increase benefits about 277,000 working Ohioans and is estimated to put more than $36 million back into our economy reports The Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio Women Working for Minimum Wage

Women in Ohio will feel this change. According to National Women’s Law Center, about seven out of 10 minimum-wage workers in Ohio are women, and a majority of them earn a tipped wage.

This should be good news, right? Well, sort of.

The federal government says a full-time, year-round job minimizes the risk of poverty. But even with this raise, it will not lift all Ohioans out of poverty.

If a woman works 40 hours a week, making $8.10 an hour, she will earn $16,848 a year. However, if this same woman is the head of her household and has two children, her family income is below the federal poverty line.

According to the American Community Survey in The Ohio Poverty Report, 11 percent of households headed by women working full-time were in poverty. About 55 percent of female-headed households in poverty were part-time workers.

In America, it’s been a long-held concept that if you work hard, you won’t be poor. Even though someone may have a full-time job, these low wages are not enough to bring families out of poverty.

Poverty and Civil Liberties

Poverty diminishes the quality of life. When you take into account a person’s age, gender, and race, it’s exacerbated even further. People in poverty are at a higher risk for lower educational attainment, poor health conditions, undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses, infant mortality, food insecurity, and limited access to resources to help combat these problems.

Poverty is often at the root of many civil liberty issues. If you’re poor, you’re more likely to be incarcerated and you’re more unlikely to be able to afford the reproductive health care you need. Whether it’s criminal justice, drug policy, racial justice or women’s rights, you can’t ignore that poverty is a risk factor that can and should be eliminated.

Although Ohio voters approved annual adjustments to the state minimum wage in 2006, it isn’t keeping up with economic reality. The wage floor would need to be raised to at least $9.51 an hour to bring a family of three to the poverty line.

The ACLU supports efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone by bringing economic justice to this country. In Ohio, we must further discuss improving the lives of minimum-wage earners because 15 extra cents an hour is not enough.

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