This CEO knows firsthand why we must #RaiseTheWage

About why minimum wage workers deserve a raise, “Walk in their shoes” says Roger Smith

Roger Smith, president and CEO of American Income Life Insurance Company – the only 100 percent union insurance company – wrote a column for The Hill in which he recounts his personal experience of life earning minimum wages:

I’m a CEO with a GED, and I have walked in the shoes of a minimum wage worker. I know from experience that it’s a tougher road today.

The minimum wage buys fewer necessities now than it did when I needed it to survive. And as a successful capitalist, it pains me to see that the American Dream, which so inspired me, is increasingly out of reach.

As a young boy, I knew all too well the despair of empty pockets. I learned to be resourceful, making money by selling my most precious possessions. The sound of change in my pocket gave me hope.

From ages 15 to 18, I was homeless. I did what I had to do to survive and put money in my pocket. I worked under the table as a day laborer, toiled in pool halls, bussed tables and worked a variety of minimum-wage jobs.

As Smith points out, the minimum wage isn’t what it used to be:

Today’s federal minimum wage has less buying power than it did when I was a homeless teen in the 1960s.

The minimum wage hit its high point in value around the time I most needed it. At its peak in 1968, the minimum wage was worth $10.96, adjusted for inflation. That’s way more than today’s federal minimum wage — stuck at $7.25 since 2009.

The $3.71 difference between the minimum wage in 1968 and today isn’t pocket change. It adds up to $7,717 over the course of a year for full-time workers.

For millions of Americans, the minimum wage is no longer a temporary entry-level wage, but a longtime wage that locks them and their families into poverty and undermines the consumer demand that drives our economy.

Raising wages puts more money into the pockets workers who need to spend it, which is why Smith says he’s not surprised a recent national poll by the American Sustainable Business Council and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage found “that 61 percent of small-business owners with employees favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 and then adjusting it annually to keep pace with the cost of living.”

Raising the minimum wage is about more than making dollars and cents:

You cannot have a strong economy or fulfill the promise of the American Dream when most Americans are running in place or falling behind while the richest Americans pull further away from the rest.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would benefit 28 million workers — workers with an average age of 35 years old. Many of them have more formal education than me.

Raising the minimum wage is a crucial first step to restoring the shattered American Dream. The same American Dream that gave a homeless kid with a GED a chance to succeed.

Read Roger Smith’s column, Walk In Their Shoes, in full at