The best thing for mom this Mother’s Day: a raise

Take a quick survey of any major florist’s website and you’ll find that having flowers delivered for Mother’s Day can be a non-trivial expense. With a middle-of-the-road arrangement, service and delivery fee, you can expect to pay upwards of $70. That may be a pittance compared with the gratitude owed to mom, but here’s another way to consider it: for millions of mothers in low-wage jobs, those flowers would cost more than an entire day’s earnings.

Earlier this year, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015. The number of mothers that would be affected by increasing the minimum wage is staggering. As shown in the table below, there are over 22 million mothers with children under the age of 18 working in the United States today.1 If the federal minimum wage were raised to $10.10 per hour, 5.5 million working moms with children under the age of 18—roughly 25 percent of all these working mothers—would see a pay increase.

Table 1 Table 1 (continued)

Estimated effects of increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015

Estimated workforce Directly Affected Indirectly Affected Total Affected Share of estimated workforce Percentage of total affected
Total  129,359,000  21,634,000  8,900,000  30,534,000 23.6% 100.0%
Mothers1  22,065,000  3,938,000  1,614,000  5,553,000 25.2% 18.2%
Fathers2  22,645,000  1,840,000  1,175,000  3,015,000 13.3% 9.9%
Female  62,517,000  12,398,000  4,700,000  17,098,000 27.3% 56.0%
Male  66,842,000  9,237,000  4,199,000  13,436,000 20.1% 44.0%
Estimated count Children with directly affected parent Children with indirectly affected parent Total Percentage of all children
Children  75,265,000  10,817,000  4,951,000  15,767,000 20.9%

1Mothers with children under the age of 18.
2Fathers with children under the age of 18.

The large share of working mothers that would be affected highlights how significantly the minimum wage affects women. Working mothers account for 18.2 percent of the total population that would get a raise from increasing the federal minimum, and women, in general, make up 56 percent. Also, as EPI President Larry Mishel has noted, the decline in value of the minimum wage over the past 3 decades has been a major driver of inequality, particularly among women.

There are plenty of working dads that would also see their pay increase if the federal minimum wage were raised—about 3 million, or 13 percent of all working fathers. Between these two groups there are 15.8 million children (21 percent of all U.S. children) with at least one parent that would get a raise under the Harkin-Miller proposal.

For any parent, the current value of the minimum wage is too low to support a family. At $7.25 per hour, a full-time minimum wage worker does not earn enough to be above the federal poverty line for a family of two. As we celebrate our mothers this Sunday, we can accept that whatever expression of thanks we make is likely to be inadequate. But for the millions who would be helped by raising the minimum wage, we should not accept that their pay be inadequate as well.

1. These estimates come from the population of identifiable, wage-earning, non-self-employed individuals in the Current Population Survey microdata. As such, they tend to underestimate the total population of workers and affected individuals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the total number of employed mothers at 23.2 million.