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[Congressional Record: September 5, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S7978-S7980]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

                          AGENDA FOR SEPTEMBER

  Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, this afternoon, we are considering 
whether to proceed to legislation to establish permanent normal trading 
relations with China. That's an important issue, and it should be 
  But in the short time remaining this year, we also must answer the 
call of the American people for real action on key issues of concern to 
working families. I want to mention briefly and then talk for the few 
more moments that I have about three specifically.
  We must raise the minimum wage--with no gimmicks, no poison pills, 
and no bloated tax breaks for the wealthy. We are willing to consider 
some tax relief for small businesses to offset any burden of raising 
the minimum wage. But the minimum wage should be the engine for relief 
for low-wage workers, not the caboose on a massive train of tax breaks 
and antiworker legislation.
  The latest Republican scheme may raise the minimum wage. But it also 
reduces overtime payments for all workers. Workers all over America are 
saying that employers are requiring them to work too much overtime. 
Under the Republican scheme, not only can employers require workers to 
work more overtime, but employers can pay them less for that overtime.
  We must pass a real Patients' Bill of Rights--true HMO reform in 
which all Americans in managed care plans are protected--not just some, 
as our Republican friends propose.
  We must strengthen our hate crimes laws. The Senate has passed such 
legislation on the DOD authorization. It's now up to the Republican 
leadership to decide whether we stand up against hate and bigotry in 
America, or will this Congress just take a pass.
  We must invest in education in ways that will make a real difference 
for our children. That means helping local schools hire more teachers 
so we can have smaller class sizes, and a quality

[[Page S7979]]

teacher in every classroom in America. It means partnering with local 
schools to modernize school buildings and build more schools. It means 
increasing Pell Grants so more young Americans have a chance to go to 
college. It means more pre-school and after-school help for parents and 
  We must adopt sensible gun controls that keep our communities and our 
schools safe. We should require child safety locks on all guns, and we 
must close the gun show loophole.
  We must adopt urgently needed immigration reforms. We must expand the 
visa quota for skilled workers--the so-called ``H-1B visa.'' And we 
must adopt new laws to ensure equal treatment under our immigration 
laws for Latino and other immigrants.
  Last but not least, we must enact a prescription drug benefit as part 
of the Medicare program. Whenever a senior citizen signs up for 
Medicare, a comprehensive prescription drug benefit should 
automatically come with it. Senior citizens shouldn't have to battle 
HMOs and insurance companies to get the prescription drugs they need. 
Yet, that is what our Republican friends propose.
  Let's do it right--and do it now. Let's pass a prescription drug 
benefit as an integral and normal part of the Medicare program, just 
like hospitalization and doctors' visits.
  This summer, Congress voted tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans 
and a pay raise for itself, but the Republican leadership has continued 
to block efforts to raise the salaries of America's most underpaid 
workers--those earning the minimum wage.
  While Members of this Republican Congress are quick to find time to 
increase their own salaries and cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, 
they have not yet found the time to pass an increase in the minimum 
wage to benefit those hard-working, low-wage Americans. The Republican 
leadership has insisted on doing nothing for those at the bottom of the 
economic ladder. It is an outrage that Congress would raise its own pay 
but not the minimum wage.
  I was pleased to hear during the recess that House Republicans are 
finally coming around to our way of thinking. Last week, after three 
years of foot-dragging, Speaker Hastert offered the President a plan to 
raise the minimum wage. This is a positive development, and it gives us 
real hope that we can raise the pay of the lowest paid workers this 
  These low income working families deserve a raise. Their pay has been 
frozen for three years. Since January 1999 alone, minimum wage workers 
have now lost $3,000 due to the inaction of Congress. If we fail to 
increase the minimum wage this year, it will lose all of the value 
gained by the last two increases. Minimum wage earners should not be 
forced to wait any longer for an increase.
  But we can't use this as an excuse to cut workers' overtime pay, as 
Speaker Hastert proposes. We can't raise the minimum wage on one hand--
and cut overtime pay for millions of Americans on the other hand.
  The typical American family is working more and more hours, according 
to a study released for Labor Day by the Economic Policy Institute 
called ``The State of Working America 2000-2001.'' Employees have 
increasingly been forced to work mandatory overtime--time they would 
rather be spending with their families--and they should be fairly 
compensated for that work.
  Several new studies further prove how important a minimum wage 
increase is. A recent report released by the Economic Policy Institute 
entitled ``The Impact of the Minimum Wage: Policy Lifts Wages, 
Maintains Floor for Low-Wage Labor Market'' reveals that 63 percent of 
gains from a $1 increase in the minimum wage would go to families in 
the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution. The study also finds 
that the higher wage raises the incomes of low-wage workers, with no 
evidence of job loss. In addition, the study reports that, among people 
who will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, 1.75 million 
workers are parents with earnings below $25,000 a year.
  A June 2000 Conference Board report, ``Does A Rising Tide Lift All 
Boats? America's Full-time Working Poor Reap Limited Gains in the New 
Economy,'' found that poverty has risen among full-time, year round 
workers since 1973. Lower skilled workers have profited much less from 
the current economic boom. They have yet to recover from the serious 
erosion of their earnings from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. The 
number of full-time workers in poverty has doubled since the late 
1970s--from about 1.5 million to almost 3 million by 1998. Millions of 
poor children are dependent upon these full-time workers.
  ``Minimum Wage Careers?'', an August 1999 study by two government 
economists, found that 12 percent of all workers have spent the first 
ten years of their careers within $1 of the minimum wage. 8 percent of 
workers, predominantly women, minorities, and the less-educated, spend 
at least 50 percent of their first ten post-school years in jobs paying 
less than $1 above the minimum wage. This research demonstrates that 
millions of workers stay at or near the minimum wage long after their 
entry into the workforce. The minimum wage is not just an ``entry 
level'' wage. As the study concludes, ``minimum wage legislation has 
non-negligible effects on the lifetime opportunities of a significant 
minority of workers.''
  Raising the minimum wage is not just a labor issue. The minimum wage 
issue is also a family issue. Forty percent of minimum wage workers 
have families. Parents are spending less and less time with their 
families. Listen to this: 22 hours less a week than they did 30 years 
ago, according to a study last year by the Council of Economic 
Advisers. As reflected in a report released by the Economic Policy 
Institute last week, an average middle-class family in 1998 spend 6.8 
percent more time at work then it did in 1989. These extra hours at 
work mean that parents have less time to spend with their children.
  Raising the minimum wage issue is also a children's issue. Thirty-
three percent of minimum wage earners are parents with children under 
18. Over 8 million children living in poverty live in working poor 
families. The Children's Defense Fund recently released a report called 
``The State of America's Children 2000.'' A chapter on Family Income 
explains that if ``recent patterns persist, one out of every three 
children born in 2000 will have spent at least a year in poverty by his 
or her 18th birthday.'' The inadequate pay of these workers is the 
reason why 33 percent of all poor children, or 4.3 million children, in 
1998 were poor despite living in a family where someone worked full-
time, year-round. Children who grow up in poor families face a much 
higher risk of poor health, high rates of learning disabilities and 
developmental delays, and poor school achievement and they are far more 
likely to end up in poverty themselves.
  Raising the minimum wage is also a civil rights issue. A 
disproportionate share of minorities will be affected by an increase in 
the minimum wage. While African Americans represent 12 percent of the 
total workforce, they represent 16 percent of those who would benefit 
from a minimum wage increase. Only 11 percent of the workforce is 
Hispanic, but 19 percent of those who would directly affected by an 
increase in the minimum wage are Hispanic.
  Raising the minimum wage is also a women's issue. Sixty percent of 
minimum wage earners are women. The workers affected by an increase in 
the minimum wage are concentrated in female-dominated occupations.
  Above all, raising the minimum wage is a fairness issue. Minimum wage 
earners, such as waitresses and teacher's aides, childcare workers, and 
elder care workers, deserve to be paid fairly for the work that they 
do. They should not be forced into poverty for doing the work that is 
so important to the citizens of the Nation.
  In this period of unprecedented economic prosperity, the 10 million 
workers at the bottom of the economic ladder who will benefit from 
raising the minimum wage should not be forced to wait any longer for 
the fair increase they deserve.
  Each day we fail to raise the minimum wage, families across the 
county continue to fall farther behind. Two facts tell the story. The 
minimum wage would have to be $7.66 an hour today--instead of its 
current level of $5.15--to have the same purchasing power it had in 
1968. If wages had kept pace with worker productivity gains

[[Page S7980]]

over the last twenty-five years, the minimum wage would have to be 
$8.79 today.
  We heard a great deal about opposition to the increase in minimum 
wage because we are not getting increases in productivity. No economy 
has ever had the dramatic increases in productivity as we have had, Mr. 
President. If we tied those increases in productivity to where the 
minimum wage should be, it would be at $8.79 instead of $5.15.
  These disgraceful disparities show how far we have fallen short in 
guaranteeing that low-income workers receive their fair share of the 
nation's prosperity. No one--no one--who works for a living should have 
to live in poverty.
  We are not going to go away or back down. We have bipartisan support 
for this increase. It is long past time for this Congress to pass a 
fair minimum wage bill.