The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 4, 2014

Analysis: Truth is in the middle on minimum wage numbers

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama stood in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday after Republicans blocked a minimum wage hike bill and argued that “they prevented a raise for 28 million hardworking Americans.”

That number sounded high — a lot higher than ones Republican lawmakers used as they voted against the measure. GOP critics says it’s mostly teenagers and young people who rely on minimum wage jobs, not the poor.

Turns out the truth, which is often murky in Washington politics, sits somewhere beneath the partisan rhetoric.

It’s true that only about 3.6 million people are paid at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the Labor Department. That’s less than 5 percent of the nation’s hourly workers.

But Democrats’ estimate of 28 million may not be as exaggerated as Republicans say.

Nearly half of the states have set their own wage floors higher than the current federal minimum but lower than the $10.10 Democrats have proposed this mid-term election year.

Looping in those workers means more than 16 million Americans would benefit from the federal wage hike, according to various studies, including the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Add to that the so-called “ripple effect” — when employers raise the overall wage scale to reflect a new minimum wage in order to attract and reward better employees. That means another 11 million workers would see a pay raise, according to other studies. The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project puts the numbers even higher.

Together, that pushes the tally closer to the 28 million that Obama and Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez used throughout last week’s debate, surrounding themselves with low-wage workers for the campaign photo op.

Still, critics ask, aren’t most of these workers young people, flipping burgers at their first jobs — as Republican Gov. Scott Walker has said he and Rep. Paul D. Ryan did growing up in Wisconsin — rather than heads of households trying to support a family on minimum wage?

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