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Heitkamp: Income gap growing in U.S.

The income and wealth gap is growing in the U.S., said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp Thursday, speaking at the North Dakota Community Action Partnership Annual Conference here.

As an example, Heiktamp said the current minimum wage amounts to less than 9 percent of the wages of a member of Congress.

She said there were three issues before Congress dealing with issues affecting low-income individuals.

“There will be a big debate over a minimum wage increase,” Heitkamp said. “The minimum wage has not kept up.”

Heitkamp said that if the 1970s level of minimum wages had kept up with inflation, it would stand at more than $10 per hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.

“We want to see it at $10.10 per hour,” she said. “That level of wage, worked 40 hours per week, puts a family just above the poverty level.”

Extending unemployment benefits is another issue before Congress, Heitkamp said. This only affects about 300 people in North Dakota.

“Extending unemployment for five months may help them put food on the table, but what we really need to look at is retraining,” she said.

The third issue encompasses substance abuse and mental health issues. Currently, about 50 percent of all ambulance runs in the U.S. are related to mental health issues, she said.

“That is money wasted because we don’t deal with the problems,” Heitkamp said.

She said solving the problems faced by low-income citizens makes economic sense.

“They are the forgotten human infrastructure,” she said. “With the economy where we are in North Dakota we can’t afford to lose even one worker.”

Mental health help and training can help move people from being users of government services such as welfare to people who contribute to the tax base that pays for those programs, Heitkamp said.

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at