(Senate - September 03, 1998)

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[Pages S9922-S9923]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                            THE MINIMUM WAGE

  Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, finally, on another measure we have 
attempted to bring up here, and we will have the opportunity to do so, 
it is to recognize a fundamental issue of fairness and equity in our 
country, and that is an increase in the minimum wage.
  I ask the Chair to let me know when I have 1 minute left.
  We have had the most extraordinary economic prosperity in the history 
of this country. We have had the explosion in terms of Wall Street, 
even with its ups and downs. We have the lowest rates of unemployment, 
the lowest rates of inflation.
  Over the many debates which have taken place since I have been here 
in the U.S. Senate, since 1962--and we have raised the minimum wage 
during this time five different times with Republican and Democratic 
support--we are always faced with two issues: If we increase the 
minimum wage, we are going to add to inflation and add to unemployment. 
It is fair for those who oppose the increase in the minimum wage to ask 
us, now that we saw the last increase in 1996-1997--we have seen an 
increase of 90 cents. For whom? The working poor; men and women working 
40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, who pay their bills and play by 
the rules--words that were used by the Senator from Iowa. They are the 
workers. They are the workers, struggling.
  Mr. President, our particular amendment, if successful, with a dollar 
in the next 2 years, would move it up by the year 2000 to $6.15. That 
would be $5.76, in terms of purchasing power. It would still be lower 
than what it was for a period of some 20 years--25 years, in purchasing 
power, at a time of extraordinary prosperity and economic growth.
  In every one of these debates they say if you raise it, you will see 
higher unemployment and you will see higher inflation. Look what 
happened the last time. When we raised the minimum wage in 1997, the 
unemployment rate was 4.9 percent and the rate of inflation was 1.7. 
Then we raised the minimum wage. We raised the minimum wage. Today, the 
unemployment rate is--higher? No, it is lower. It is 4.5 percent, and 
the rate of inflation is 1.4 percent. Mr. President, 3.7 million new 
jobs have been added. Executive salaries have exploded and gone up 
through the roof, but the real purchasing income for the needy working 
families of this country continues to fall further and further behind.
  Those who receive the minimum wage primarily are women--60 percent. 
It is a women's issue. It is a children's issue. These are children of 
working families. Family values? This is it. When you get an increase 
in the minimum wage, those families say, ``Now we no longer have to 
work three jobs, we can work two. Maybe we don't have the time to spend 
with our children.'' But this is an issue of dignity for those who are 
out there working. It is an issue of fairness. It is an issue of 
  This body, at the time of this extraordinary economic growth and 
prosperity, at a time when we in this body have benefited from a cost-
of-living adjustment of more than $3,000 since our last increase in the 
minimum wage,

[[Page S9923]]

ought to be able to say to those working poor that we understand, when 
they work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, they ought not to be 
continuing to live in poverty.
  Mr. President, those issues are going to come back to us and we will 
address them, I guarantee you, before the end of the session.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.
  Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that I be 
allowed to proceed as in morning business for up to 25 minutes.

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.