WASHINGTON — The fight to raise the minimum wage caught a big wave of momentum this week as President Barack Obama endorsed a pay increase after voters pledged support in two key elections.
The White House confirmed Thursday that Obama was backing an effort to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which is higher than the $9-an-hour proposal he championed in his State of the Union address in February.
The announcement comes just days after voters in New Jersey approved a $1 increase in the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour. And when all the votes are counted, residents of a suburban Washington town, SeaTac, likely pushed the minimum wage up to an eye-catching $15 an hour for about 6,500 men and women who work at or near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
“We’re talking about a $15-an-hour minimum wage,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, which is helping lead national efforts for a minimum wage increase. “That’s a message that people think the $15 minimum wage is fair and what you need to survive. And business can absolutely afford it. It’s a big deal.”
Those results were expected to spur Obama to renew calls for a federal minimum wage hike. He did so Thursday by publicly supporting a proposal introduced this summer by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it to inflation. But the proposal is not expected to gain much traction in today’s divided Congress. And many Republicans feel it would kill job growth.
Campaigns are spreading across the country, as more workers find themselves in low-wage jobs coming out of the Great Recession. Of the 1.9 million jobs created during the recovery, 43 percent have been in the low-wage industries of retail, food services and employment services, according to a recent National Employment Law Project study.