Perez: Parents, Society, And Taxpayers Bear The Cost Of Low Wages

Nov 5, 2014

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez
Credit Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor

South Dakota voters have approved an initiative raising the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour.

U. S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez says that extra dollar and a quarter makes all the difference in the world to people who are working two or three jobs, struggling to raise their children.

“I speak to people all across this country who are making unconscionable choices between buying a gallon of milk or buying a gallon of gas,” he says.

The purchasing power of the minimum wage has decreased 20 percent over 30 years, and Perez says that situation affects families in ways other than financial. There are socioeconomic ramifications that extend to the relationship between parents and their children.

“I used to work in local government, and I would be asked the question with regularity, you know, ‘Why aren’t more parents participating in their students’ academic lives? Why don’t we have more parents at the PTA meeting?’ And that question was actually quite easy to answer: because they’re at their second and third job,” Perez says. “The most important family value is the value of time that you can spend with your children.”

He says an increase in the minimum wage channels into the community, where it improves the local economy:

“That single mom who got a raise from seven and a quarter to eight-fifty, she’s not going to be banking that money in some offshore account. She’s going to be buying more diapers, she’s going to be buying more food, she’s going to buy more medicine.”

The labor secretary says people who work a 40 hour week at minimum wage can’t make it without assistance from the government.

“I’ve also met so many people who say, ‘I don’t want to rely on food stamps. I want to get off government benefits.’ And when you raise the minimum wage, you remove people from that eligibility.”

There’s a push at the federal level to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Perez says at that rate of pay, people can get off government assistance and earn enough that their wages make up for the public support they lose.

South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 18 raises the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, up from $7.25 an hour. It also provides for a cost of living increase every year to correct for inflation, and raises the hourly salaries of tipped workers from $2.13 to half of minimum wage.