Under the leadership of President Clinton, the nation is enjoying an extraordinary period of growth and prosperity. Some experts are calling it "the best economy ever." The stock market is soaring. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 28 years, and inflation is at its lowest level in 40 years.

But for too many Americans, it's someone else's boom. This fact is especially true for those at the bottom of the pay scale.Minimum-wage workers have not received their fair share of this remarkable growth. Working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, they earn just $10,700 - $2,900 below the poverty level for a family of three. That's why Rep. David Bonior and I, with the strong support of Clinton and Democrats in the House and Senate, say now is the time to raise the minimum wage.

We know who minimum-wage workers are. Three-quarters are adults over the age of 20. They are disproportionately women - 60 percent. They are single women heading households - 20 percent. Half work full time, and 80 percent work at least 20 hours a week.

The average minimum-wage worker contributes more than half of his or her family's weekly earnings. They work hard, and they deserve to be treated with dignity. They deserve a fair increase in the minimum wage, and it's time for Congress to enact it.

The legislation we are proposing will raise the minimum wage by 50 cents on Jan. 1 next year and another 50 cents on Jan. 1, 2000. As we begin the next century, the minimum wage will be a well-deserved $6.15 an hour.

Republican naysayers in Congress parrot the same arguments they have always used against a fair minimum wage. They claim an increase will damage the economy, cost jobs and hurt the very people it's intended to help. The more they make those false claims, the longer their noses get.

The National Restaurant Association is a case in point. It claims a "study" found that over 146,000 restaurant jobs were lost because of the 1996-97 minimum-wage increases. The Restaurant Association should stick to cooking meals, not statistics. Its "study" was actually a telephone survey of 1,000 restaurant owners and managers, whose profits might be reduced if they paid workers a higher wage.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of April 1998, 187,000 new restaurant jobs have been added - not lost - since the minimum wage increased in 1996.

The Restaurant Association also claims that restaurant owners "postponed hiring" 106,000 employees. Again, it just isn't true. By their own admission, restaurant owners are offering unprecedented benefits in order to get and keep workers.

According to the National Restaurant Association, "in addition to health and pension benefits, restaurants are increasingly offering disability insurance, day care, prescription benefits and even relocation perks."

The fact is that modest increases in the minimum wage do not cost jobs for men, women, adults, teenagers, African-Americans, Latinos, restaurant workers or anyone else.

The two most recent increases in the minimum wage did not cause the sky to fall. There was no measurable effect on jobs and no measurable effect on inflation. The only measurable effect on low-income workers was positive - they received the pay increase they deserved.