Part of a campaign push towards the midterm elections in November President Barack Obama on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 urged Congress to raise the minimum raise alongside governors from New England states at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. President Obama wants to lift the wage up from $7.25 to $10.10 for all American workers by 2016. Obama was joined by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, who already raised the state's minimum wage and wants to increase it to the $10.10 level, and Governors "Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Peter Shumlin of Vermont" and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, of who have "formed a regional coalition to raise the minimum wage," which Obama joked are "the Justice League of Governors."
Obama has renewed advocating raising the minimum wage since his State of the Union address when he announced his economic opportunity program, and then followed through by raising the minimum wage for federal contractors through an executive order on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 12. The president has been arguing for the raise with the tagline, Americans "deserve an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."
The president's remarks sounded more a campaign speech aimed at the Democratic base rather than speaking to Congress about passing an important policy initiative through bipartisan means. In the speech delivered at the university's gymnasium, the President described his economic opportunity program and them delved into the benefits of raising the minimum wage, recounted his executive order for federal workers, the bill in the Senate, Republican opposition and his partnership with governors to raise the minimum in the states in another effort to circumvent Congress' reluctance, mixed with anecdotes of individuals that would benefit to demonstrate raising the minimum wage will help families.
The president's visit to Connecticut was an attempt to highlight the efforts of governors who are working to raise the minimum wage in their states. So far six states have raised the minimum wage including; "California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island," and 14 others are considering do the same. The president also spoke to the Democratic governors at the White House on Friday, Feb 21 prior to the annual National Governors Association meeting in Washington this weekend. Obama along with Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the Democratic Governors Association about economic policy, and another way to raise the minimum wage for many Americans through bypassing a reluctant Republican Congress. President Obama is convincing the democratic governors to raise the minimum wages in their states
In his remarks the president again described that the economic opportunity program has four parts, creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and raising the minimum wage. The economic opportunity program will make the middle class more accessible to low-income Americans.
Selling the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage, Obama asked; "What happens if workers got a little more money in their pocket? They spend a little more money. Which means that suddenly businesses have more customers, which means they make more profits, which means they can hire more workers, which means you get a virtuous cycle. … It's common sense."
President Obama and the Democrats have decided to champion the minimum wage increase as part their midterm election campaign, especially since the Republicans in Congress are opposed to any increase. Republicans base their argument on a recent Congressional Budget Office report that jobs will be lost in the process of an increase with employers no having enough to pay the increase and maintain the same number of workers of their rolls.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on Tuesday, Feb. 18 on the affect of raising the minimum wage that does not appear as optimistic about the ramifications of universally raising the minimum. The report determined that 16.5 million Americans would see a bump in their wages from a nationwide raise, with 900,000 Americans lifted above the poverty level however, jobs would be cut to 500,000 workers or 0.3 percent, a no win situation.
Even with efforts to bypass Congress to raise the minimum wage through an executive order and by governors raising the minimum wage in their states, President Obama realizes Congress is the only body with the power to universally raise the minimum wage for all American workers. Obama urged them to pass an upcoming bill; "If we're going to finish the job, Congress has to get on board. Congress has to get on board. And this is interesting -- this should not be that hard, you'd think. Because nearly three in four Americans, about half of all Republicans, support raising the minimum wage."
There is a proposed Senate bill to raise the minimum wage was sponsored by two Democrats, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and California Representative George Miller. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV has promised the president that he will put raising the minimum wage to a vote in March. The bill would face opposition in the Republican House of Representatives from the Speaker John Boehner, R-OH who has numerous times stated that raising the minimum wage will result in less jobs for the lower income bracket.
President Obama attacked the Republican Congress for their unwillingness to raise the minimum wage, despite broad support throughout the country for this legislation. Obama even joked about using reverse psychology to get the bill passed; "The problem is, Republicans in Congress oppose raising the minimum wage -- now I don't know if that's just because I proposed it. Maybe I should say I oppose raising the minimum wage and they'd be for it, that's possible."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH has been emphasizing all along through the debate that jobs would be lost from raising the minimum wage and instead wants to focus on job creation. The speaker's spokesman Brendan Buck said the raise would "destroy jobs for people who need them the most. When folks are still struggling to find work in this economy, why would we make that any harder?"
Obama stressed Republican opposition and the various arguments they use against passing a raise; "Republicans in Congress don't want to vote on raising the minimum wage. Some have actually said they just want to scrap the minimum wage. One of them said, "I think it's outlived its usefulness…I'd vote to repeal the minimum wage." One of them said it's never worked. Some even said it only helps young people, as if that's a bad thing. I think we should want to help young people. I'd like to see them try putting themselves through college on a low wage work-study job. But actually -- or I'd like to see them supporting a family, making less than $15,000 a year."
Obama again tried to debunk the myth that those working minimum wage jobs are teenagers, instead that they are on average 35 years old and predominantly women. The president explained; "Most people who would get a raise if we raise the minimum wage are not teenagers on their first job -- their average age is 35. A majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. These Americans are working full-time, often supporting families."
The president emphasized how Americans lose out when the cost of living rises, but the minimum wage remains the same; "Every time Congress refuses to raise it, it loses value because the cost of living goes higher, minimum wage stays the same. Right now, it's worth 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. And over the last year, since I asked Congress to do something and they didn't do it, that was an equivalent of a $200 pay cut for the average minimum wage worker, because it didn't keep pace with inflation."
Concluding in his push to Congress, Obama stated; "So members of Congress have a choice to make, it is a clear choice: Raise workers' wages, grow our economy -- or let wages stagnate further, give workers what amounts to another pay cut."
The President concluded his remarks with a jab aimed at Republicans; "There are millions of Americans like Doug, and like all of you, who are tired of old political arguments, ready to raise the bar a little higher. Let's move this country forward. Let's move it up. Let's go further. That's what I'm going to do as President as long as I have the honor of serving in this office, and I need your help. Let's go out there and give America a raise."
Prior to speaking at Central Connecticut State University, Obama put the spotlight on a local business in New Britain, Connecticut, Cafe Beauregard which has set their minimum wage above state's level. The President visiting the restaurant has the done the same for Costco and the Gap as he has been selling a minimum wage raise. Obama stated; "We were just talking to the owners of this establishment who pay their employees more than the minimum wage because, as the owner put it, he knows what it's like to work all his life and he understands that if people are working hard, they shouldn't be in poverty and that we should be able to do everything we can to make sure that happens."
President Barack Obama's Remarks on Opportunity For All: Making Work Pay and the Minimum Wage, March 6, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.