Cities and states have taken the lead on raising the minimum wage in the absence of Congressional action, but Democrats are expected to make this an issue in this year's midterm elections. And if more Democrats are elected to Congress, the federal government could potentially increase the floor on wages.
"Democrats really see this as a winning issue" in the November midterm elections, says Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter at The New York Times. They "are trying to hit this hard...as a way to erase losses" associated with Obamacare," Greenhouse tells The Daily Ticker.
Democrats also see raising the minimum wage "as an important way to lift the wages of millions of American workers," says Greenhouse.
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour -- which, after adjusting for inflation, is about 30% less than it was 46 years ago.
President Obama and many Democrats want to raise the minimum to $10.10 an hour by 2016, which would boost the earnings of some 16 million Americans. The Congressional Budget Office says the wage hike would reduce poverty for 900,000 Americans but also eliminate 500,000 jobs -- a conclusion that Republicans are using to argue against the hike.
Related: Minimum wage hike: Good policy or good politics?
Given that opposition, President Obama decided to institute the wage hike for federal contractors by executive order, effective next January. Eighteen states have instituted a minimum wage that's higher than the national minimum. Washington leads with $9.32 an hour and SeaTac, a city south of Seattle, has the highest minimum wage in the country at $15 an hour.
Greenhouse says he's interviewed many minimum wage workers who say they can't support themselves, no less their families, making just $8 or $9 an hour. And many of those workers are household breadwinners who are educated and not the teenager flipping hamburgers in a summer job, which has been the conventional image of minimum wage workers.
"More educated workers are making just $7, $8 or $9 dollars and hour," says Greenhouse. Many have finished high schhool and a growing percentage have some college credit.
But is raising the minmum wage the best way to support those workers?
Some economists argue that increasing the earned income tax credit would be more effective because it would shift the burden from employers to the government.
"Republicans really don't want to do it because that would cost the govenrment billions of dollars," says Greenhouse. "That is a heavier political lift than raising the minimum wage," which is why Democrats are focusing on minimum wage, says Greenhouse.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 63% of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats supported that level, while 47% of Republicans did. Support overall declined above $10.10 an hour.
Should the minimum wage be raised to $10.10 an hour? Should the earned income tax credit be increased instead? Tell us in the comments section below. You can reach us at Facebook and on Twitter (@DailyTicker).
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