Minimum wage earners have every right to be angry at being locked out of the economy, Faris says. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
For generations, Americans prided themselves on living in the land of opportunity. The belief that big dreams and hard work are key ingredients to success is hard-wired into us. It spurred millions of Americans to innovate, start businesses and reach for the stars. Our can-do spirit defines who we are.
Unfortunately, many of our neighbors who aim high and put in long hours still struggle with poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.6 million Michiganians live in poverty ó 16.3 percent of our population. More than a third are children. Their situation is compounded by the new retirement tax and cuts to the Homestead Property Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax increases Michigan Republicans recently instituted.
Meanwhile, Michigan women contend with one of the highest pay equity disparities in our nation. Our moms, daughters, sisters and wives work every bit as hard as Michigan men, yet earn just 74 cents for each dollar earned by their male co-workers. Thatís actually worse than the national gender disparity of 77 cents for each male dollar.
We must address income inequality if Michigan is to truly be a land of opportunity.
More than one million Michiganians earn the stateís minimum wage of $7.40 an hour, and nearly a quarter of them are parents. For them, putting in a 40-hour week each week of the year amounts to $15,392 before taxes ó not enough to keep a family of three above poverty. According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, 85 percent of minimum wage earners are at least 20 years old, and 44 percent work full-time at minimum wage jobs.
These hard-working moms and dads put in long hours for low wages and come home to help kids with homework and put food on the table. They deserve an honest dayís pay for a full dayís work. But not only is raising their pay the right thing to do, it also boosts the economy. When those families have more dollars in their pockets, they spend more at local stores, lifting the economy for everyone and creating more jobs. Increasing the minimum wage is one of the smartest things we can do to move Michigan forward.
That is why the Michigan House Democrats have introduced measures to raise our minimum wage. I urge my Republican colleagues to take action on our proposals immediately, so that some of the hardest working Michiganians will be fairly paid for their work.
Similarly, women who work as hard as men deserve to be paid just as much. Itís common sense that two people with similar education, experience and productivity deserve equal pay. Everyone deserves a fair shake in the workplace. Sadly, women still earn less than men, and few safeguards protect womenís wages.
Michigan House Democrats have introduced legislation to guarantee equal pay and give women tools to fight back against unfair employment practices. These bills would prevent employers from providing unequal compensation to similarly situated men and women, create penalties violating that law and require employers to provide wage information when workers ask for it. The only thing standing in the way of these bills becoming real, legal protection for women is the lack of Republican will to get it done.
Democrat and Republican alike, we all believe that people who set goals and work to achieve them deserve a chance to make their dreams real. Itís a belief ingrained in American hearts, and a promise we make to our children when we encourage them to dream big. Itís time to make good on that promise, and Michiganís House Democrats are ready to lead the way.
State Rep. Pam Faris, D-Clio, represents Michiganís 48th District.