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Is 2014 the Year for Increasing the Minimum Wage?

Seventy percent of country supports increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Credit: AP
Credit: AP
Written by Dan Fastenberg, AOL Jobs

It's not every day 70 percent of the country is in agreement on a hot-button political issue. And yet in a Quinnipiac University poll released in December, seven out of 10 Americans expressed support for raising the minimum wage, which now stands at $7.25 an hour at the federal level. Indeed, as the country marks the 50th anniversary of the "War on Poverty" this month, outlets including NPR have pointed out that after adjusting for inflation minimum wage workers earn less today than they did in the late 1960's. 

'Not realistic for people to live on'
"The minimum wage is so low it's not realistic for people to live on," said David Cooper, an economic analyst with the left-leaning Washington D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, in an interview with AOL Jobs.

President Obama has expressed support for increasing the minimum wage. During last year's state of the union address he called for the figure to jump to $9 an hour, as AOL Jobs reported. He has since signaled support for the Congressional Democrats' proposal to lift the number to $10.10 an hour.

The current year is a midterm election year and "President Obama and the Democrats have said they will be making a big push -- it's clearly going to be a major issue during the election," said Jack Temple, a policy analyst for the progressive National Employment Law Project. "Given the support it has, Democrats can clearly run on it," he added in an interview with AOL Jobs.

But such a readiness comes after years of congressional inaction. In the vacuum, the issue has been taken up by people on the streets -- in the form of protests among fast-food workers -- and in state legislatures. (The last time the minimum wage was raised was back in 2009, when it was increased from $6.55 an hour.)

Taking it to the states
Last year saw five states and Washington D.C. approve increases in the minimum wages (California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island). And so as of Jan. 1, 2014, 21 states and Washington D.C. have a higher minimum wage on the books than the federal amount, as the National Council of State Legislature documents. (The highest state minimum wage is in Washington state, in which the figure now stands at $9.32 an hour.) And campaigns have already been launched in states from Alaska to Maryland to secure an increase this year for the state minimum wage. (For more, read about the five states likely to approve a minimum wage increase in 2014.)

Indeed, the wave appears to be extending beyond coastal states known for their left-leaning constituencies. In addition, several of the states mulling an increase of their minimum wage are scheduled to hold ballot votes, as opposed to being voted upon by the state legislature. And as Temple also told AOL Jobs, "no minimum wage ballot campaign has ever lost in the past 15 years. When voters have the opportunity to choose themselves, they tend to approve an increase with overwhelming majorities."

Aiming for a $15 minimum wage
Much of the momentum fueling the current drive to raise the minimum wage grew out of grassroots efforts like the fast-food campaign, according to the experts interviewed for this article. Activists and workers have publicly made the call at those protests for a $15 an hour minimum wage, which would represent a more than doubling of the current rate.

Such an ambitious agenda has proved productive, according to Temple. "The $15 figure has introduced clarity and it shows that even $10.10 is a modest proposal," he said. "If workers are saying they need $15 an hour to make ends meet that it puts even more pressure on Congress to stop dragging their feet on a modest raise to $10.10 an hour."

The $15 figure has even proven to be a realistic goal for localities throughout the country. Such an initiative in SeaTac, Wash., for instance, was approved by voters in Nov., as CNN Moneyreported. The plan took effect on Jan. 1 for the hospitality and transportation workers in the city whose economy is tied to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (The measure has since been struck down for employees working inside the airport itself, as the building is located in the jurisdiction of another city, Port of Seattle.)

'Indexing' the minimum wage
In a generation, however, even $15 an hour might be deemed an insufficient figure for the minimum wage as prices fluctuate. And so in a bid to avoid having to constantly update the minimum wage to keep up with the swings of the market, 11 states and Washington D.C. have approved the method known as "indexing" their minimum wage. Through such a policy, the minimum wage is increased annually by the same percentage that the state Consumer Price Index (CPI) – the average price paid for goods and services – has gone up in-state.

"As a result these states don't have to deal with the problem anymore and consumers' purchasing power is protected," explained Cooper, of the EPI. "If there's a growing trend it's a recognition that as low-wage jobs make up a bigger share of the economy the government can't afford to allow the minimum wage to stay flat as cost of living goes up," added Temple, from NELP.

The role of the private sector
But beyond the federal and state government there is one last group that can increase the salaries of low-wage workers – the companies themselves. "If history is any guide it's clear collective bargaining and protesting works," Temple said, and mentioned the example of janitors who he noted used to make salaries close to what fast-food workers make. But in the 1990's the high-profile Justice for Janitors movement led to the securing of 27 new employment contracts, replete with health benefits, at commercial cleaning contractors in cities like Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, as AOL Jobs has noted.

"If people see the hand that companies like Walmart and McDonald's play in creating low-wage jobs workers they become motivated," Temple explained. "And then pressure will be placed on the companies to do something." 
stanley seigler January 26, 2014 at 08:35 PM
@JB, hello fellow senior...well i am a bleeding heart redneck...it's illogical to say our progressive free market system cannot survive...it survived GOP policies (thanks to FDR/DEMs) that caused 1929 and is now recovering from GOP policies that caused 2008 (thanks to BO/DEMs) +++ that's stark history. ......................................................................................... you may have anecdotal experience with socialized healthcare countries...your experience does not agree with WHO who ranks USA number ONE in health care cost...and 37th in quality...most of the countries ranked above 37 have socialized healthcare... ......................................................................................... RE: hard attitude of superior knowledge ....the only information i have is from google...you should try it for any substantiating data you have to confirm your opines/conclusions...eg, the CBO report that say: the system cannot survive... ......................................................................................... not sure of the CBO report to which you refer (can you pls ID)...but one relating to immigration (recently discussed here) say: CBO estimates that the bill [senate immigration bill) would reduce deficits by a total of $158 billion over 2014-2023.
stanley seigler January 26, 2014 at 08:38 PM
BTW is any contributor to buckhead PATCH.from buckhead?
DianeKH January 26, 2014 at 09:25 PM
Someone mistakenly posted to the Buckhead Patch and now every time someone responds to someone else via their email, it goes here. Respond through the Royal Oak Patch website to get it back on track.
T as in Truth January 27, 2014 at 05:02 AM
Stan - u should check your view settings. It seems like your comments contain a **** load of periods.
stanley seigler January 27, 2014 at 08:58 AM
RE periods...PATCH could eliminate the periods if they would format the comment section to recognize paragraphs... ......................................................................................... apologies if periods annoy ...they are an attempt to recognizes paragraphs ......................................................................................... anyone, any suggestions? would '+++' be better??? ......................................................................................... BTW not sure if 'T' is 'bustin my whatever'...but i have no idea what view settings are or how to check them...

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