By Tom Houghton
I recently delivered a petition to my opponent, Rep. Joe Pitts, urging him to support raising the minimum wage. I did this on behalf of nearly 500 voters who signed the petition in just a week and a half. I was proud that so many stood with me as I stood up for American families.
Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do morally and economically. I support raising the minimum wage because I want to strengthen our economy by collectively investing in hardworking American families.
According to statistics, 54.5 percent of minimum wage workers work full time. A full-time worker in the U.S. earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour makes $15,080 per year. This is well below the poverty line of $23,550, according to Health and Human Services.
The idea that these workers are primarily high school students working for spending money is a myth. 88.3 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 years of age or older, 27.9 percent have children, 34.9 percent have a high school diploma and 43.8 percent have some higher education.
I do not believe that hardworking Americans should be living in poverty and depending on assistance programs to make ends meet. As a nation and a community, we believe that those who work hard and play by the rules should have the opportunity to build a better life. Working full time and still living in poverty is not true to our values.
Our community also values fiscal responsibility. We all want to see the federal government reign in deficit spending. One component of doing so is to reduce the amount of people on federal assistance programs like food stamps. Raising the minimum wage will do just that.
As spending on assistance programs to those living in poverty skyrockets, the real beneficiary of our tax dollars are large, extremely profitable companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. The fast food industry and Wal-Mart alone account for nearly $10 billion per year in federal assistance spending to their poverty wage employees. By allowing these big corporations, whose CEOs make millions every year, to pay their employees extremely low wages, we are subsidizing their multi-billion dollar profits with our tax dollars, and with the money that our nation is borrowing.
McDonald’s had profits of $5.59 Billion last year, yet it’s poverty wage employees collected nearly $1.2 Billion in federal assistance. A Berkeley Labor Center study, Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The public cost of low-wage Jobs in the fast-food industry says "the cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry is nearly $7 billion per year." and "Due to low earnings, fast-food workers' families ... receive an annual average of $1.04 billion in food stamp benefits."
Bloomberg estimates Wal-Mart’s profits at 17.2 Billion per year. Despite these huge profits, Wal-Mart pays its employees so little that those employees collected $2.66 billion in federal assistance last year, or roughly $420,000 per Wal-Mart store.
My opponent has taken numerous votes that harm our community and our nation for the singular purpose of cutting government spending. In just the past few weeks he voted against the bi-partisan Farm Bill, a bill that was extremely important to our community’s hard working farming families, because he wanted deeper cuts to food stamps. Earlier this week, he voted against the bi-partisan debt ceiling bill, without which our nation would have faced default and economic collapse. Remember, the debt ceiling is raised to pay for past spending. America must pay our bills or default. To vote "no" is playing politics.
Despite these extreme votes, he has failed to address the real causes of increased spending on assistance programs, and he has failed to understand that an investment in hardworking Americans will always be a sound investment.
In response to my petition, he claimed that he was focused on strengthening the economy and addressing unemployment, not raising the minimum wage. Strengthening our economy, cutting spending and shrinking the deficit are precisely the reasons that we need to raise the minimum wage.
By increasing the minimum wage, we will not only cut spending on federal assistance programs, and end a form of massive corporate welfare, we will increase the spending power of American families. More spending by workers means more jobs and a stronger economy. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would add over $31.5 Billion to our economy and create 140,000 jobs.
Increasing the minimum wage reflects the values of our community. It is time for us to invest in American families and stop using borrowed money to increase profits for multi-billion dollar companies. It is time for my opponent to decide if he stands with our community, or with radicals, and corporate CEOs who use our money to boost their own enormous salaries. The taxpayers of the 16th District deserve a representative in Washington who will stand up for our values and work in a bi-partisan way to pass common sense legislation that makes life better for everyone and creates a brighter future for our nation. I will be that representative.
Tom Houghton is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 16th District. He previously represented the 13th District in the Pa. State House and served as a London Grove Township supervisor.