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Buoyed by Protests, Obama Embraces $10 Minimum Wage

Obama responds to the growing protest movement, reflecting the widespread sentiment that people who work full time shouldn't be mired in poverty.

Photo Credit: of america


Copyright, Reprinted with permission.

What prompted President Obama to up the ante on the minimum wage? In January 2013, in his State of the Union address, he proposed raising the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9 an hour. Then last week he  announced that he supports hiking it to $10.10 an hour.

It is unlikely that his change of heart was the result of key economic advisers persuading him that a bigger wage boost was needed to reduce poverty and stimulate the economy. Both of those things are true, and surely entered into his thinking, but the major impetus was political. He was responding to the growing protest movement, public opinion polls and election outcomes that reflect widespread sentiment that people who work full time shouldn't be mired in poverty. It is a heartening reminder that democracy - the messy mix of forces that typically pits organized people versus organized money - still can work.

Growing activism by low-wage workers around the country has put a public face and sense of urgency over the plight of America's working poor. During the past year,  workers across the country at fast-food chains such as McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King have gone on strike and demanded  a base wage of at least $15 per hour. Walmart workers have engaged in one-day work stoppages and civil disobedience as part of an escalating grass-roots campaign to demand that the nation's largest private employer pay its workers  at least $25,000 a year, thousands more than a full-time worker making $10.10 per hour would earn.

These protests triggered increasing media coverage, including brilliant put-downs on " The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and " The Colbert Report" of the conservative arguments against the minimum wage.

In recent years, Americans have shown  increasing support for boosting the minimum wage and for the idea that people who work full-time should not earn poverty-level wages. The  most recent poll, conducted in July by Hart Research Associates, showed 80 percent of Americans back hiking the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and adjusting it for the cost of living in future years. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of Democrats voice support for this proposal, but so do 80 percent of independents, 62 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Southern whites and 79 percent of people with incomes over $100,000.

Americans also have expressed their growing frustration with widening inequality, stagnant wages and persistent poverty at the ballot box.

Last week, even as New Jersey voters were giving conservative Republican Gov. Chris Christie a second term, they also overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to raise the state's minimum wage by a dollar to $8.25 an hour. The new law includes an automatic cost-of-living increase each year. Last year, Christie vetoed a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, so the Democrats in the state Legislature pushed back by putting the question to the voters. Last week, the wage hike passed with 60 percent of the vote despite opposition from business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, and Christie, who said that raising the wage is "just an irresponsible thing to do."

On the same day, voters in the Seattle suburb of Seatac embraced the Good Jobs Initiative' to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and at airport-related businesses, including hotels, car-rental agencies and parking lots. It won by a ratio of 54 percent to 46 percent. The new law, sponsored by labor unions and other progressives, applies to more than 6,000 workers. Even though Washington's current minimum wage is $9.19, the highest in the nation, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and challenger Ed Murray (who beat McGinn on Tuesday) both supported the Seatac initiative and raised the possibility of doing the same thing in Washington's largest city.

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