Good morning. On this Labor Day weekend, as we relax with our families, we honor the hard-working men and women who've helped build the strongest economy in our Nation's history. With more than 22 million new jobs, record surpluses, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, all Americans have a right to be proud.
But even at this time of unprecedented prosperity, millions of Americans still are working every day for the minimum wage. Today I want to talk about giving them a much deserved raise.
Every one of us knows someone who works for the minimum wage and often struggles to make ends meet, people like Cheryl Costas, a mother of four I met just a few months ago. Cheryl's from a small town in Pennsylvania. She works at a local convenience store for the minimum wage so she can support her four children and her disabled husband. As she said to me, $5.15 an hour doesn't pay the bills. It doesn't put food on the table.
Seventy percent of all workers on the minimum wage, like Cheryl, are adults; almost 50 percent work full-time; 60 percent are women. In many cases, they are their family's sole breadwinners, struggling to raise their kids on $10,700 a year. These hard-working Americans need a raise.
For more than 7 years now, our administration has sought to build an America that promotes responsibility and rewards work. That's why we nearly doubled the earned-income tax credit to cut taxes for millions of hard-pressed working parents; why we passed a children's tax credit for $500 that 15 million Americans have taken advantage of; and why we provided for tax cuts for college tuition that 10 million families have taken advantage of; why we fought to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act that over 20 million Americans have taken advantage of to take a little time off when a baby is born or a parent is sick; why we've worked for better health care coverage and more child care coverage; and why, in 1996, I signed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour over 2 years.
It's long passed time we raised it again. In fact, more than a year-and-a-half ago, I proposed to raise the minimum wage by a dollar over 2 years. That's a modest increase that merely restores the minimum wage to what it was way back in 1982 in real dollar terms.
Still, that's no small change to more than 10 million Americans who work for the minimum wage. For a full-time worker, it means another $2,000 a year, enough for a family of four to buy groceries for 7 months or pay their rent check for 5.
But month after month, even with bipartisan support in Congress, the Republican leadership has sat on our proposal to raise the minimum wage, costing the average full-time worker more than a $1,000 in lost wages. So far it's been the victim of every legislative maneuver in the congressional handbook, from poison-pill attachments to special interest strong-arming.
Some Republicans have even reverted to the same old attacks they used back in 1996, the last time we raised the minimum wage. Back then, they called the increase, and I quote, a "job killer" that would, quote, "lead to a juvenile crime wave of epic proportions." Well, my fellow Americans, the only thing of epic proportions that's happened since 1996 has been the continued growth of our economy. Since we last raised the minimum wage, our economy has created more than 11 million new jobs, and juvenile crime has gone down every year. Study after study has shown that raising the minimum wage is not only the right thing to do for working families; it's the smart thing to do for our economy.
So my message to Congress is simple: Stop stalling. If the subject is tax breaks for the wealthy or legislative loopholes for special interest, this Congress moves with breathtaking speed. It's now time for the Republican leadership to stop riding the brakes on the minimum wage.
In the last week, with the election fast approaching, we've seen signs that some Republican leaders may be willing finally to work with us. So when they come back to Washington next week, I urge them to send me a minimum wage bill as the first order of business. It should also include a moderate tax cut package that everyone can agree on, without harmful provisions that would threaten overtime protections.
Once we secure the victory for hard-pressed working families, we can get to work on other pressing priorities—on education, Social Security, Medicare, prescription drug coverage, a Patients' Bill of Rights, a middle class tax package including deductions for college tuition, and paying down the debt. Now, raising the minimum wage isn't just about dollars and cents; it's also about fundamental values: everybody counts; everyone's work should be rewarded; we all do better when we help each other.
America's workers have kept their end of the deal, and let's keep ours and honor Labor Day the right way, by giving working Americans the raise they have earned.
Thanks for listening.