Congress has refused to increase the minimum wage in over a decade, even though the value of the minimum wage, thanks to inflation, is 24% less than it was in 1979, and 7.3 million workers would benefit from an increase.

That's why states have taken it into their own hands to boost the minimum wage -- and their efforts are enjoying broad support, as a recent report by the Pew Center shows:

On April 10th Governor Mike Huckabee added Arkansas to the growing list of states with minimum wage levels above $5.15 an hour. With this act, a majority of Americans now live in states that have enacted wage minimums above the federal floor. The political impetus behind this and other state actions is easily discerned - raising the minimum wage has broad public backing that crosses all social, regional and political categories.

By an overwhelming margin (83% to 14%), the American public favors raising the federal minimum wage to $7.15 per hour -- a hefty $2.00 an hour increase. And nearly half (49%) say they strongly support such an increase. While there are differences in the extent of support across political and socioeconomic lines, raising the minimum wage receives widespread support from both Republicans and Democrats, wealthy and poor.

Among Pew's findings: 72% of Republicans favor a minimum wage boost.

This is in line with our previous post about populism in the South -- the large numbers of Southern voters who agree with progressive economic positions. According to another Pew poll, 91% of "populists" support hiking the minimum wage.

North Carolina and Tennessee are likely to add themselves to the list of states acting on the views of the growing majority. Here's how North Carolina's Asheville Citizen-Times puts it in an editorial today:

Earlier this month new figures from the Federal Reserve showed that the richest 1 percent of families held 33.4 percent of the nation's net worth in 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The next wealthiest 9 percent held 36.1 percent of net worth, while families in the top 50 percent to 90 percent held 27.9 percent. Families in the bottom 50 percent saw their share of the nation's net worth fall to 2.5 percent from 2.8 percent in 2001.

That's an unsustainable trend that must be reversed. Either we figure out a way to provide those families in the bottom tier with a living wage and an opportunity to become part of the American dream or we will create an increasingly unstable social environment where drugs, crime and dependence on social programs drives up the cost of government and undermines our security. That's not even taking into account the enormous toll in human potential lost to our nation in an ever more competitive global environment for lack of opportunity.

North Carolina can't reverse the trend alone by increasing the minimum wage. But it can certainly take one small step in that direction.