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Senator Ted Kennedy today proposed a minimum wage amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill. The amendment calls for a $2.10 increase to the minimum wage over two years.

Kennedy’s action comes as House Republican leaders stall voting on the $141.9 billion FY 2007 Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill this week. Expected to hit the House floor this week, voting was postponed indefinitely after House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) successfully amended the bill during committee markup last week to include an increase to the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25.

Both Hoyer’s amendment to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill and Kennedy’s proposed amendment to the Defense appropriations bill are opportunities for Congress to seriously consider increasing the minimum wage. This would be the first increase to the minimum wage since 1997. During this time, the House has raised its own pay eight times, including a two percent cost of living raise just last week .

It is inexcusable for Congress to continue raising its wages while ignoring America’s minimum-wage workers. Since President Bush took office, the number of Americans living in poverty has increased by 5.4 million. The minimum wage is currently at its lowest level in 50 years, adjusting for inflation. Since the last increase in 1997, the real value of minimum wage has eroded by 20 percent. To give some perspective, it now takes more than a full day of work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for someone working for minimum wage to earn enough money to fill up a tank of gas.

Nearly 15 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are adult workers, will benefit from a minimum wage increase. Almost 60 percent of these workers are women, 40 percent are people of color, and more than a third are sole breadwinners for their families.

Americans overwhelmingly support an increase to the minimum wage. According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of Americans favor raising the minimum wage, and 43 percent of Americans consider raising the minimum wage a top priority.

The federal government cannot wait for states to legislate a higher minimum wage. Congress must listen to the needs of an overwhelming number of Americans and vote to substantially increase the minimum wage now.

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