US Senate Republican and Democratic leaders are in negotiations this week regarding a bill that would raise the minimum wage, currently $5.15 per hour, by as much as $1.50 over the next three years. While this hike would make a difference in lives of minimum wage earnersÑthe majority of which are womenÑa $1.50 per hour increase would still be below poverty-level wages, currently $8.01 per hour. Republicans are pushing for a smaller increaseÑ$1 over 2 years. Senator Kennedy, ranking Democrat on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is leading the effort for a three year, 50 cents per year increase in the minimum wage. The Senate hopes to vote on the bill before Memorial Day; President Bush said he would support a minimum wage increase, as long as states had the option of not increasing state minimum wages.
The majority of minimum wage paying jobs are traditionally held by women, including waitresses, childcare workers, teachers aides, seamstresses, home health aides and nurses aides. Not increasing minimum wage would further increase the disparity between women and men’s salary. Currently, women earn only 72 cents for every $1 earned by men; women of color earn 65 cents for every $1 earned by men. To highlight inequities in pay between women and men, April 3 is marked as Equal Pay DayÑa day for activism and awareness. Through the National Committee on Pay Equity, over 250 local organizations in 41 states have signed up to take part in Equal Pay Day and work toward economic justice for women and minorities.