REFLECTING ON PRIORITIES FACING AMERICA

July 15, 2019
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, we are considering the Raise the Wage Act later this week. That proposal will gradually increase the Federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, and after that, adjust for inflation.

   I thank the gentleman from Nevada (Mr. Horsford) for convening this Special Order to discuss the minimum wage on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, because this gives us an opportunity to explore the historic and continuing intersection between race and the Federal minimum wage.

   When the Federal minimum wage was established under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, it purposely excluded many African American workers. Agriculture and most service workers, who are predominantly African American, were exempted from labor law protections.

   From 1930 to 1940, the share of Southern Blacks who worked in agriculture, in domestic service was over 40 percent. At the same time, the practice of tipping, which had originally enabled American employers to avoid paying wages to newly freed Black workers, was in effect.

   And the law also treated disabled workers as inferior and permanently codified some forms of labor as lower than minimum wage work. Those exclusions lowered labor standards in the South by excluding a large share of its workforce and denied African American workers access to basic labor protections.

   But in 1966, Congress finally amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to expand coverage to agriculture, restaurants, nursing homes, and other service workers. The benefits of that act were particularly strong for Black workers. Nearly one-third of Black workers gained protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act compared to only 18 percent of Whites.

   The size of that minimum wage increase in finally protecting a larger share of African Americans closed 20 percent of the Black-White earnings and income gap. Estimates based on the differential impact of the 1966 amendments by industry and wage levels within industry give a clear indication of how important the minimum wage protection was, because it established a Federal minimum wage.

   We know how effective it was because Black workers in industries that were not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act were paid significantly lower than the minimum wage. After increases in minimum wage increased earnings by an average of 34 percent, studies found modest to positive job gains as a direct result of the increase in the minimum wage in the industries that came under the Fair Labor Standards Act protection.

   The poverty rate for African American children fell from a staggering 65 percent in 1965 to 39 percent in 1969 after the minimum wage expansion in coverage and increase to its highest value in real terms. That caused a rapid decline in childhood poverty amongst African Americans. Fifty years later, the Raise the Wage Act would have a similarly strong impact on African American workers.

   This past June marked the longest time in the history of the minimum wage where there was no increase in the minimum wage. Just about half of African American workers live in the 21 States where the minimum wage has not been increased over $7.25 an hour.

   Most of the States, in fact, have not waited for the Federal Government; they went ahead and increased it. But half of the African American population lives in the 21 States stuck at $7.25.

   To make matters worse, factoring for inflation, these minimum wage workers have actually suffered a cut over the last decade. So, as a result, millions of Americans who are working full-time still find themselves in poverty. In fact, one recent study showed that there is no city or county in America where a minimum wage worker working 40 hours a week can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

      So, for nearly a third of Black workers, this is important legislation. One-third of Black workers would get a raise if Congress passes the Raise the Wage Act.

   We have a responsibility and an opportunity to restore the value of the minimum wage, lift millions of hardworking people out of poverty, and boost the wages for African American families across the country.

   There is nothing more that we can do to actually reduce the wage and income gaps, the wealth gaps, that we have in America today than raise the minimum wage.

   So, this week, we must pass the Raise the Wage Act and restore President Roosevelt's promise of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.