Economy

Veterans Day Passes and Not a Peep From GOP Congress About Helping Low-Income Vets

Raising the minimum wage would help one in five vets; instead, the GOP eyes Medicaid cuts affecting one in 10.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Rawpixel.com

As Veterans Day recedes and Republicans in Congress take up tax reform purportedly to help everyday Americans, it is worth noting that one in five veterans would benefit by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

While that is not on the table in Congress, the GOP’s bill-writing legislators envision funding their tax cuts by cutting $1 trillion from state-run Medicaid over the next decade. Medicaid is the public health program used by about 10 percent of the nation’s vets, helping those who are poor or don’t live near Veterans Administration facilities. The Republican-led Congress is yet again showing its preference to do little to help poor Americans, including former soldiers who served in the military and are at the low end of the income spectrum for veterans

“Of the 9 million veterans in payroll jobs across the country, approximately 1.8 million would get a raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024, as was proposed earlier this year in the Raise the Wage Act of 2017,” wrote the Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper and Dan Essrow. “This means that despite their service to the country, the intensive training that they have received, and the access to additional education provided to veterans through the GI Bill, 1 out of every 5 veterans is still being paid so little that they stand to benefit from raising the minimum wage.”

The veterans who would benefit from raising the minimum wage are in their 30s, approaching middle age, EPI’s experts noted.

“The stereotype that only middle-class teens working after school would benefit from raising the minimum wage is false. Yet this stereotype breaks down even more dramatically when considering the veterans who stand to benefit from a higher minimum wage,” they wrote. “Of the veterans who would get a raise, nearly two-thirds are age 40 or older, over 60 percent have some college experience, and nearly 70 percent work full time.”

Other studies of veterans’ post-service work have found women veterans tend to earn less than their male counterparts. The factors that account for these wage disparities include gender, educational attainment, work experience, length of military service, race, marital status, number of offspring, work history and region of the country where they live. Other studies, such as a VetVotes.org report on eroding prevailing wage standards in construction, have found changes in state law “disproportionately hurt veterans.”

These various studies suggest the federal government is not doing all it can to help ex-service members lead fiscally stable lives—even as one-third of veterans end up in government or public service jobs.

“The fact that so many former servicemen and women would benefit from raising the minimum wage is a reminder that labor standards like the minimum wage protect all workers—even those whose courage, training, and sacrifice should guarantee them a good job,” EPI’s experts said. “Unfortunately, Congress has let the federal minimum wage erode to the point where, adjusted for inflation, workers at the federal minimum wage are paid less today than during the Vietnam War. There is no reason why the federal minimum wage could not be significantly higher than it is today; Congress simply needs to act.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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