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Ohio Sens Brown, Portman differ on minimum wage hike as Obama calls for it

President Obama took a fresh focus Wednesday on raising the minimum wage, an issue that will play a big role in this year's midterm elections.

Minimum wage laws in states.
Minimum wage laws in states.
President Obama signs an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10 during an East Room event February 12, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

He underscored the populist economic message that will drive much of this year's Democratic strategy, that increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 from $7.25 starting next year is a winning hand.

For working Buckeyes, an increase in the minimum wage pits its two Washington Senators against each other, which isn't too surprising considering one is a Democrat and the other a Republican. But according to a new PPP survey, Senator Rob Portman, elected in 2010, is already facing considerable backlash in Ohio for being the deciding vote against emergency legislation to restore unemployment benefits for 1.7 million job seekers, including over 48,000 Ohioans.

Senator Sherrod Brown, reelected in 2012 in an expensive and fierce battle with his Republican challenger, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that he'll introduce a Senate Resolution aimed at boosting an Increase for Tipped Minimum Wage, which now stands at just $2.13 per hour. Brown said passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act, of which he is a cosponsor, would boost GDP by nearly $33 billion and lift 4.6 million people out of poverty.

Sen. Brown said the tipped minimum wage should rise overtime to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. The regular minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but under Brown’s legislation would rise to $10.10 an hour. According to the National Employment Law Project, the minimum wage has lost more than 30 percent of its spending power over the last forty years. By passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act, hiking the minimum wage would boost GDP by nearly $33 billion and generate 140,000 new jobs over three years, as workers spend their raises in their local businesses and communities.

"Every year, millions of Americans living on a tipped wage are working hard and taking responsibility, but are lucky just to get by," Brown said in prepared remarks. "Earning a base of $2.13 an hour, even with tips, isn’t very much—not when you need to put food on the table, fill your gas tank, send your children to school, and provide a safe place for them to live," he said, adding, "Every hardworking American deserves the opportunity to earn a living wage. Passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act and raising the tipped minimum wage is a step in the right direction."

Meanwhile, Sen. Portman often talks about supporting jobless benefits if they’re paid for, but when presented with legislation that was totally paid for in a way Republicans have supported in the past, he failed to support the measure. The PPP survey found the voters Portman is supposed to represent are not pleased with his decision to jeopardize even more Ohioans’ jobless benefits and more Ohioans’ jobs.

The PPP surveys in Ohio and Illinois find that the idea of increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour is very popular with voters in those states, and that Senators Rob Portman and Mark Kirk could face a backlash if they oppose the raise when the issue comes up later this year.

PPP's key findings:

-51% of voters in both Illinois and Ohio say that not only do they support increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour, but that they strongly support doing so. Overall 64% of Ohioans support the increase to only 36% who are opposed, and in Illinois 63% favor it to just 33% who are in opposition.

-Voters say by a 12 point margin that they’re less likely to support Rob Portman for reelection if he opposes the minimum wage increase, and by an 11 point spread that they’re less likely to vote for Mark Kirk again if he opposes it.

Portman and Kirk have already antagonized voters in their states by opposing reinstating unemployment benefits, and opposing the minimum wage increase would serve to further exacerbate the discontent with them on these key employment issues, Tom Jensen at PPP wrote.

Joining Sen. Brown on yesterday's call with reporters was Saru Jayaraman, founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a group that offers details on tipped workers in its "State of the Tipped Worker." She notes that 70 percent of tipped workers are women, who earn, including tips, about $8/hour, according to industry data. It shows, she said, that "women who put food on our tables can't afford to put food on their own tables" because their income is never secure, never stable.

Moreover, Jayaraman pointed out that 37 percent of sexual harassment is found in the restaurant industry, four times more than other industries. She noted that "no other industry in the world has workers living off mercy of customers."

History on the topic shows that when the tipped minimum wage was first established, it was 50 percent of the regular minimum wage, and at its peak, 60 percent during the 1980s. Now it's just 29 percent of the regular minimum wage. If the Fair Minimum Wage Act becomes law, it would also increase the regular minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from its current $7.25, and index it to inflation. Sen. Brown said tipped workers would see their minimum wage increase to $7.10 or higher depending on inflation.

Speaking from the White House on Wednesday, President Obama underscored his support of raising the minimum wage. The president dispelled the conventional wisdom that minimum wage jobs are for teenagers.

"But they’re not teenagers taking on their first job. They’re adults -- average age is 35 years old," he said, noting as Jayaraman did, that a majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. "Many of them have children that they’re supporting," he said, adding that these are "Americans who work full-time, often to support a family, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economic productivity, they’d already be getting paid well over $10 an hour."

When Congress fails to act, as it has since the president called for an increase in the minimum wage a year ago, the White House believes that failure resulted in the equivalent of a $200 pay cut for the typical minimum wage worker. "That’s a month worth of groceries, maybe two months’ worth of electricity. It makes a big difference for a lot of families," President Obama said.

National data shows that 21 states plus the District of Columbia already have minimum wages above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. Additionally, Delaware recently passed a law to raise its minimum wage that will go in to effect later in 2014.

Some conservative voices are backing a raise in the minimum wage because, they say, it will reduce taxpayer funded social safety net programs low-wage workers need because they are not earning enough money to pay their own way. Business should take care of its own workers, they say, so government and the taxpayers that fund it, which Republicans don't like, doesn't have to come to their rescue.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, running for a second term this year, has been silent on whether he supports or opposes raising the minimum wage. His Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, will likely include raising the minimum wage as he battles to unseat Kasich this year.

Senator Brown Thursday said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada will bring the issue up in the coming weeks.

The news article Ohio Sens Brown, Portman differ on minimum wage hike as Obama calls for it appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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