(MintPress) – During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama stirred up an old fight. “We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong,” the president told the nation.
“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” the president continued. “This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets … So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”
Currently, 19 states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington — and the District of Columbia have existing minimum wage laws that exceed the federal minimum of $7.15 per hour.
Four states — Georgia, Missouri, Wyoming, and Minnesota — allow employers to pay non-tipped employees less than the minimum wage under specific conditions. Only Washington state currently has a minimum wage — $9.19 per hour — that is higher than the president’s proposal, although several municipalities, such as San Francisco and Santa Fe, have minimum wages in excess of $10 per hour.
The president’s proposal would call for a three-part rise in the national minimum wage, ultimately leading to a $9 per hour minimum by 2015. Previously, the president proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011 and pegging it to the rate of inflation during his 2008 candidacy.
If the minimum wage was pegged to inflation, it would stand at approximately $10 per hour today.
Since 2008, Obama and his administration have received a fair amount of criticism for not keeping his campaign promise. Fearing that the proposal would die in a Republican-controlled House, where business interests and protection of the free market would convince conservatives to oppose such a proposal and fear that the tag “job killer” would destroy the president’s re-election chances caused the administration to dodge the issue previously.
In 2011, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis dodged the question of if the minimum wage should be increased, and just this week, the administration had no comment on if the president would honor his 2008 pledge.
Many Republicans oppose a minimum raise hike on principal. Many feel that such a raise would cause small businesses to hire less and to spend more on labor costs. Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) argues that a minimum wage hike will make it harder for many to enter the workforce. “I’m glad to see people get paid more, but the more we mandate that, the harder it makes it on younger people to actually get their first entry-level job and start getting the experience that’s going to be required.”
The president, in his announced proposal against poverty, also called for an expansion of federal financial aid, an end of wage discrimination based on gender, a reduction on health care costs and an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.
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