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June 08, 2013 11:12 AM One way to help close the gender wage gap: raise the minimum wage

By Kathleen Geier

This week, ThinkProgress’s excellent Bryce Covert wrote about a new report by the National Women’s Law Project about the relationship between the minimum wage and the gender pay gap. As the NWLP demonstrates, raising the minimum wage would help close the gender pay gap, because women are disproportionately concentrated in low-wage sectors such as food service, retail, housekeeping, and home health aides,

Raising the minimum wage is an important policy tool to bring about economic justice to women workers. Consider the following:

— Contrary to what you might assume based on the recent mass freak-out by male Fox News anchors, we women are hardly the dominant sex in the workplace. In fact, we’re losing ground economically, and the gender wage gap is getting worse rather than better. Increasing the minimum wage would significantly remedy the situation.

— The NWLP points out that women of color, who suffer from racial discrimination as well as gender discrimination, make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers. So they, too, stand to strongly benefit from a minimum wage increase, in ways that would partially offset the effects of discrimination.

— Earlier research has shown that the declining real value of the minimum wage has substantially accelerated the trend in growing wage inequality the U.S. generally, particularly among women. Increasing the minimum wage would help slow this trend.

— Finally, one of the chief benefits of the the minimum wage is as economic stimulus. In fact, it was originally instituted during the Great Depression not so much as a worker protection policy but as macroeconomic policy, to spur economic growth. Low-wage workers tend to spend close to every penny they make, rather than save. The money they inject back into the economy then has a multiplier effect which revives the economy as a whole — meaning that the minimum wage benefits not just minimum wage workers, but everyone else as well.

So far, President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, which he made in the State of the Union address earlier this year, doesn’t seem to have gotten out of committee. It’s one of the endless list of things in this country that is excellent policy and excellent politics, but is being blocked by the G.O.P. Lather, rinse, repeat. Will this story ever end?

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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