HOUSTON — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) held a special press conference July 22 at the Christian Rescue Mission Church in the heart of the 3rd Ward, near this city’s downtown, to celebrate the first increase of the federal minimum wage in 10 years.
Her main objective was to publicize the raise among poor and working people in her district, so they can effectively demand it from their employers.
The federal minimum wage increased from $5.15 an hour to $5.85 an hour effective July 24. Next July it will climb to $6.55, and by July 2009 it will rise to $7.25.
Participants in the event included representatives from the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees union, ACORN and faith-based groups.
Jackson Lee has worked tirelessly on behalf of her district’s poor and working people, and was instrumental in getting the legislation passed in Congress despite stiff opposition from the ultra-right. She noted that on “Tuesday, July 24, more than 13 million workers will receive a long overdue raise. When the minimum wage increase is fully phased in in 2009, minimum wage workers will have an extra $4,400 to feed, clothe, house and educate their families.”
She stressed that since the minimum wage in Texas has been the old federal minimum, $5.15 an hour, 888,000 Texans will see an immediate increase in their hourly pay. An estimated 1,774,000 Texas workers overall will likely benefit from the raise, she said.
Jackson Lee pointed out that currently, a minimum wage worker earns an income nearly $6,000 below the poverty level for a family of three. In contrast, she said, “the average CEO now earns 821 times more than a minimum wage worker, earning more before lunchtime than the minimum wage worker earns all year.”
She noted that over the recent period the cost of milk is up 24 percent, bread is up 25 percent, public college tuition is up 96 percent, health insurance is up 97 percent and the cost of regular gas is up 149 percent. However, she said, the minimum wage has not increased one cent since 1997, and, when adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is less than it was in 1995.
Women, disadvantaged workers and working households at the bottom of the income scale will be disproportionately helped by the wage hike. She said this increase will help reverse the trend of declining real wages for low-wage workers and their families.
Jackson Lee pointed out the modern-day tragedy that many of the families of soldiers fighting in Iraq are on food stamps because their incomes are so low. Ten percent of military spouses earn between $5.15 and $7.25 per hour. About 50,000 military families will benefit from the minimum wage boost.
Jolanda Jones, a Houston lawyer who represents clients who cannot afford an attorney, said that disadvantaged people are targeted by the criminal justice system. She said the raise in minimum wage will help families defend themselves and ultimately will make our cities safer because “desperate people do desperate things.”
Another participant in the event, a resident of the community, declared, “Hard work deserves fair pay.”