March 05,2021

Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on Amendment to COVID-19 Relief Package to Raise the Minimum Wage

As Prepared for Delivery

Madam President, right now, the United States Senate is debating whether it’s okay to pay starvation wages in America. You heard that right, starvation wages. Receiving that starvation wage, single moms skip meals as they try to make rent and buy groceries for their family. Those moms are paid $7.25 an hour, often work two jobs and go to bed every night worried the next day will bring financial calamity. Is this okay in a country as rich as ours?

Here in the United States Senate, nobody has to worry where their next meal is coming from. But that’s an everyday struggle for too many families across this country. Senators, let’s think about those who are hurting as the vote on the minimum wage amendment approaches. It is time for that single mom to get a fair wage for a fair day’s work. A living wage, not a starvation wage.

There has never been a stronger case for a $15 minimum wage than there is right now in this pandemic. I think about grocery store and pharmacy workers, home health aides, food processing and packing workers, restaurant employees interacting with maskless customers. So many workers in Oregon and across the country are going to work in a dangerous environment every day.

 Many of them are Black and Latino workers – people from the communities that have suffered the most from COVID-19. They’ve kept this country going through the last year.

 I’ve heard a whole lot of members of the Senate – Democratic and Republican – talk about those workers as heroes of the pandemic. So the question is will the Senate stand up and give those heroes the raise they deserve – the raise they’ve waited for 12 years?

 There are 30 million Americans who earn less than $15 an hour. It would be closer to 40 million if not for the fact that the coronavirus put so many Americans out of work. That’s just immoral and unacceptable.

 If you want to see inequality baked into the law, just look at how this country treats its lowest income workers compared to those at the top. The minimum wage has been stuck for 12 years, and a flat minimum wage is nothing but a slow-moving pay cut for those who make the least.

 A minimum wage worker cannot afford the average rent in any state in America – not one. And that doesn’t account for utilities, food, gas, the car payment, medical bills, school supplies. Living is expensive for the poor in America.

 Meanwhile, the most well to do keep winning with their investments in the stock market. The entire tax code is rigged to favor the income of billionaires over the income of wage-earning families. Republicans passed the $2 trillion Trump tax law promising the same trickle-down benefits they’ve talked about for 50 years, even though those magical benefits have never actually trickled down. The Trump administration even made it A-Okay in the eyes of the law for corporations to steal from their employees’ tipped wages. A country that aspires to be pro-work shouldn’t be this anti-worker.

 Members of the Senate might forget it now, but the minimum wage used to go up all the time. It’s happened 22 times since the minimum wage was enacted in 1938. Through the ‘50s, ‘60s and into the ‘70s – the postwar period that many people consider to be the boom years of the 20th century – the minimum wage went up all the time. Congress expanded the range of workers it covered.

 Those increases didn’t lead to the end of Western Civilization back then, and raising the minimum wage won’t do that today either. That’s because – and folks might want to sit down when I say this – it’s good for everybody when there are fewer poor people in America.

 This is the longest the Congress has gone without raising the minimum wage since its origin. In recent years, a grassroots movement has picked up the slack and made a lot of progress in cities and states all over the country, including in Oregon. But the Congress cannot wait any longer to act.

 The powerful are able to pull the levers of Congress all the time, and they get far more than their share of benefits and attention. Right now, the Congress needs to prove that it can look after working people, and that means raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Every Senator says they want to incentivize hard work, and a living wage does just that. That single mom skipping meals to feed her kids deserves better. The Senate can do better, starting today.

 Senator Sanders has led the effort to Raise the Wage for years and years. As the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m all in with him on this fight. Senators, support our amendment and give tens of millions of America’s hard working people a raise.