The country’s food system is the largest employer of minimum wage workers. These workers hold positions ranging from agricultural field hands and food processing plant workers to cooks in diners and waiters in high-end restaurants. In observation of national Food Day 2012, a newly released report says that a proposal pending in U.S. Congress to raise the minimum wage could potentially help millions of workers in the food industry.
The findings from the report titled “A Dime A Day: The Impact Of The Miller/Harkin Minimum Wage Proposal On The Price Of Food” coincide and support the core values of Food Day. Food Day is a nationwide celebration and movement toward more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Food Day takes place annually on October 24 to address food issues from farm to table. Issues include labor justice for food and farm workers, health and nutrition, hunger, agricultural policy, and animal welfare.
“We rely on food system workers to bring our food to our tables – workers on farms and in food processing plants, warehouses, grocery stores, and restaurant and food service establishments,” said Joann Lo, executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. “It’s a sad irony that food system workers rely on food stamps at one-and-a-half times the rate of the general workforce. Raising the minimum wage can help lift food workers, and workers in other industries, out of poverty.”
The report from the Food Labor Research Center, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC United) looks at the proposed “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012.” The act would represent the first increase in the non-tipped minimum wage in five years. It would also be the first increase in 21 years for workers who receive tips. A raise in minimum wage would increase the cost of retail food for the American consumer by at most 10 cents per day while at the same time, potentially help nearly 8 million food workers and as many as 21 million workers in other industries.
“Food workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in America, and they face much higher levels of food insecurity than the rest of the U.S. workforce,” said Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center. “Our report shows that raising the minimum wage would help them put food on the table while barely, if at all, impacting everyone else’s ability to put food on their tables, too.”
The bill, introduced by Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), calls for incremental increases of 85 cents an hour for each of the next three years to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.80 an hour. Similarly, this would raise the tipped minimum wage from its current $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the full federal minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage at its core is about respecting and valuing work,” said Representative Miller. “No one who works hard every day and plays by the rules should live in poverty. It’s also good economic policy. Giving minimum wage workers a raise will help millions of working families make ends meet and help grow the economy.”