Northeast TN Knoxville: Raise the Minimum Wage

Organizing for Action fellows are really making a difference this Spring! The day of training for our fellows here in Northeast Tennessee was very recent and already they are out in the community working hard. Many of our fellows have a story of their own to share. Today was an opportunity for one of our fellows, Joyce B, to tell her own story of how the unrealistically low minimum wage of $7.25/hour has hurt her.

Volunteers and fellows of Organizing for Action gathered for a press conference at the Knox County Courthouse on the morning of Wednesday February 19th, 2014. Everyone in attendance was “fired up and ready to go” on getting the word out about the need to raise our minimum wage. Even Mother Nature seemed to be in the mood with unseasonably warm weather to greet us. Two Knoxville TV stations, WBIR-10 and WATE-6 showed up to cover this event. At the conclusion of the conference, representatives of Organizing for Action paid a visit to the offices of Senator’s Corker and Alexander to deliver letters supporting the raising of the minimum wage. When the cameras started rolling, fellow Joyce B was ready with her story.Joyce Brown and The Cameras Feb. 19DSC_0010

For two years, Joyce B found herself having to work two jobs after having been laid off. The first job she took paid $8/hour. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she simply can’t pay the bills nor live off such a minuscule salary. So she was forced to take up a second job, one that paid even less at $7.50/hour. Despite the fact she worked very hard, the two jobs combined never were able to make up for the job she was laid off from. Joyce learned that even working two low wage jobs was never going to work for her. Living on a minimum wage salary in this country is simply not possible. Eventually, her fortunes turned around and she got a better paying job. The impact of those “dark days” as she calls the years of working two jobs, stayed with her. In reflecting on the current minimum wage, she says “No human being can be expected to live the lives of regular people being paid $290 before taxes”. Many people have to do just that due to Congress refusing to take serious action on raising the minimum wage.

Many myths about the dangers of raising the minimum wage persist. The favorite, worn out talking points by the opposition to this includes that it will “harm business” or “hurt the economy”. The only way one can rationally understand this argument is to see who is making them….big, mega-corporations with record profits. They certainly could afford to pay their workers a living wage, but choose not to. Using the scare tactic that they will have to raise prices if the minimum wage goes up, they have scared our members of Congress into keeping wages at poverty levels. Given the profits of these corporations, the price of products would rise by merely loose-change costs.

During the press conference, many proofs were given to debunk the myths of the dangers of raising the minimum wage. For example, over 600 economists, seven of them being Nobel Laureates, have signed a letter stating raising the minimum wage will have no negative effect on employment. In fact, increasing the minimum wage to just $10.10/hour would grow the economy by $22 billion! Many people still stubbornly hold to the mistaken belief that minimum wage earners are mostly teenagers working after school for pocket money. Nothing is further from the truth. Nearly 90 percent of minimum wage earners are above 20 years old, with the average age being 35. Indeed, none of the people who spoke of the minimum wage at today’s press conference was a teenager at all.

Facts such as this, can only point in one direction, and one direction only. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour is not a livable wage. No one who works hard should have to live in poverty. President Obama himself spoke words not unlike that many times, including in his State of the Union speech in January 2014. Our members of Congress need to listen to two things and act on only one point. First, listen to hard working Americans, like the people at our press conference this morning over mega-corporations. Second, listen to hard data and facts that clearly supports the raising of the minimum wage to a living wage. The point of action that needs to be taken by Congress is to raise the minimum wage and help out millions of Americans. Senator Corker, Senator Alexander, it is time to listen to the Tennesseans you represent and raise our minimum wage now. Will you?

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