ANN ARBOR, Mich. - President Obama brought his campaign for a higher minimum wage to the University of Michigan today, where his comments were enthusiastically received by the mostly student audience.
The President spoke to a crowd of students and invited guests of 1,400 inside the university’s intramural sports building.
"There is a bill before Congress that would boost America's minimum wage to $10.10. It would help lift wages for 28 million Americans, including a million people right here in Michigan," Mr. Obama said. "It would lift millions of people out of poverty right away."
He urged students to use their spring breaks to contact their elected representatives about the minimum wage, and then added, "oh did that happen already? Well I hope you had fun."
The President touched on equal pay for women, the Affordable Care Act, the improving economy, the burden of student loans, and job training in his half-hour remarks.
Buddying up to his listeners, he said, "we've got to make sure everybody's ready with the skills they need; not everybody's going to be lucky enough to be a Wolverine and graduate from Michigan."
“We just came through the first month since 2003 where no U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.
He said despite the signs of economic recovery in manufacturing and the stock market, many in the middle class are not seeing income and wage growth.
He enlisted Henry Ford in the minimum wage campaign because of the 20th Century industrialist’s support for liberal pay and the 40-hour week.
“Fair wages and higher profits are not mutually exclusive. That's what Henry Ford understood,” Mr. Obama said. "Nobody who works full-time should be raising their family in poverty." He said the minimum wage is thought of as primarily involving young people but said the average age of those receiving it is 35.
In attendance was Mark Schauer, Democratic candidate for governor and former U.S. representative.
“I can’t wait to get minimum wage earners a raise. It’s good for families, good for children, it’s good for the economy,” Mr. Schauer said.
Bobby Schostak, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, issued a statement that avoided the minimum wage.
“Governor [Rick] Snyder has reduced regulations and put policies in place to encourage innovation throughout the state, which is why we’re seeing personal income grow and more people working," Mr. Schostak said.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analyzed the proposal and concluded that it would lift 900,000 workers out of poverty, but cost 500,000 jobs.
The bill is expected to be debated soon in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House, where Republicans are largely opposed.
With the President was Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat against likely Republican candidate Terri Lynn Land.
Mlive.com on March 31 reported that Ms. Land left the possibility of a minimum wage increase open. "We want to make sure we have good paying jobs here in Michigan, and we have to make sure that we have the opportunity for everyone to get a job.That's why it's important to look at how this is all really going to work, but I am open to looking at an increase."
Mr. Peters voiced support for the president's proposal in January.
Michigan’s unemployment rate in February was 7.7 percent, 46th highest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The President arrived at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. He made an unannounced stop at Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor and bought a Reuben sandwich, and then spoke with three customers.
Zingerman’s co-owner Paul Saginaw in January joined a business group trek to Washington to lobby in favor of the three-year phased-in minimum wage increase from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10.
One student in the hall said she’s in favor of raising the minimum but agrees with critics that it will stifle employment.
“My opinion is if the minimum wage is raised there would be less job opportunities,” said Dillon Stuart, 18, of Ann Arbor, a freshman business and Chinese major. She works as a lifeguard for about $8 an hour.
“I think it’s a good idea to raise it for the people that live on the edge,” said Ms. Stuart, who doesn’t see the wage increase as likely to impact her part-time job.
“I think they’re going to have a constant need for lifeguards at pools,” said Ms. Stuart. She said she attended the event because somebody was giving out tickets.