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Doing the Minimum for Workers

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Once again, Congress has missed an opportunity to raise the national minimum wage. Not touched since the increases of 1996-97, the $5.15 hourly rate seems nailed to the ground, even as the cost of living goes up.

As an amendment to the bankruptcy bill, a minimum wage of $7.25 was proposed Monday by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts. Sen. Rick Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania countered with $6.25.

Both proposals were defeated, as expected. Senator Kennedy, rebuffed on this issue by the GOP in the past, was trying to make a political point - and spur more states to raise their own minimums.

This issue is hotly partisan. Republicans argue that raising the pay floor costs poor workers their jobs, and isn't targeted very well. For instance, 41 percent of minimum-wage earners live with a parent or relative, including many teenagers whose earnings go to iPods, not bread and butter.

Democrats trot out competing job-loss studies, and emphasize the poor - such as single mothers - who are indeed helped by an increase. Both cases are presented at www.minimumwage.com (by conservatives) and www.epinet.org (by liberals).

It sounds like a draw, but it's not. The overwhelming argument for an increase is inflation. Today's $5.15 equals $4.23 in 1995 (just before the last raise). Many workers get cost-of-living increases, but the minimum wage doesn't change. Mr. Kennedy should keep pushing, and Congress should come to an agreement. It's the minimum they can do.

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