In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama advocated raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2015 (it’s now $7.25 nationally, $7.85 in Ohio, and $7.40 in Michigan). He also wants to index the minimum wage to inflation — a key reform.
Working at the current minimum wage pays a full-time employee $14,500 a year. Were it to rise to $9, a full-time worker would earn roughly $18,000 a year, still below the poverty level.
The President says the hike he seeks would raise income for 15 million people in this country. But if he is going to make this fight, why not pursue a more meaningful minimum wage and try to lift more people out of poverty?
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) is a cosponsor of a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, plus cost-of-living increases. He rejects the argument that a higher wage would inhibit job creation.
According to most economists, Senator Brown says, very little of that happens. What pressure the minimum wage exerts on the number of jobs, he says, is more than made up for by a rising standard of living for workers.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage rates above the federal level; Washington state’s is the highest, at $9.19 an hour. And 10 states already increase their minimum wage rates annually to account for inflation.
There is no reason not to raise the minimum wage. But as with immigration, tax reform, and budget balancing, it will be tough to get a higher wage through the GOP-controlled House.
President Obama will have to pick his battles. In his first term, he dropped his advocacy of a higher minimum wage. If it is one of his priorities this term, he should fight for a number that will make a real difference in people’s lives.
People at the low end of the economy need help. The President should seek not just a higher minimum wage, but also a meaningful one.