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As Minimum Wages Inch Upwards, Workers Say 'Not Enough!'

Democrats shop populist push as party strategy in 2014

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Fast food workers rally outside of a McDonald's in Oakland, California, Aug. 29, 2013.(Photo: Steve Rhodes/ cc via Flickr)As of January 1, the minimum wage in 13 states will rise, bringing the total number of states with wages above the $7.25 federal requirement to 21.

However, as many celebrate this as a victory and a sure-fire strategy for Democratic legislators in upcoming elections, progressive voices maintain that a minimum wage of $8 or $9 an hour is still not enough.

A USA Today headline published Monday reports:

Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island legislatures voted to raise the minimum hourly wage by as much as $1, to $8 to $8.70, by Wednesday. In California, a $1 increase to $9 is scheduled July 1. Smaller automatic increases tied to inflation will take effect in nine other states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Meanwhile, states such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Minnesota and South Dakota plan to weigh minimum-wage hikes next year through legislation or ballot initiatives.

In Minnesota, the state House and Senate have each passed bills to raise the minimum wage and plan to iron out their differences early next year after failing to approve similar measures the past two decades.

Most of the hikes apply to workers who earn tips in addition to an hourly wage, which is often much less than the minimum wage in that state.

Coinciding with the state-level push, President Obama, backed by congressional Democrats, is supporting legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015.

Though many credit the rise of the Fast Food Workers strikes—during which workers walked off the job in over a hundred cities throughout 2013—with bringing national awareness to the growing demand for a living wage, the low-wage labor movement's call for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 dollars an hour has not received much due respect.

As Independent labor reporter Allison Kilkenny tweeted Monday:

According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, in Connecticut, for example, where as of Thursday the minimum wage will be set at $8.70 an hour, the minimum calculated amount for one adult to support his or herself is $10.68 an hour.

"The estimates do not reflect a middle class standard of living," the MIT researchers write. "In such cases, the calculator is likely to underestimate costs such as housing and child care."

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published earlier this month, 63 percent of respondents said they supported a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour and 43 percent said they would back a $12.50 an hour wage.

“Because the national discussion out of Washington, D.C., has been in the $9 to $10 range, the result is not surprising,” said David Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union local 775 chapter of the poll. “I think you would have seen similar results had you polled in 2007 on marriage equality or marijuana."

Ahead of the Jan. 1 wage changes, media outlets are reporting that many Democratic legislators are co-opting this growing populist movement into watered-down legislation to be leveraged as a "strategy" to be employed in upcoming elections.

The New York Times reports that to counter the botched roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats "see the minimum-wage increase as a way to shift the political conversation back to their preferred terms." The Times continues:

In a series of strategy meetings and conference calls among them in recent weeks, they have focused on two levels: an effort to raise the federal minimum wage, which will be pushed by President Obama and congressional leaders, and a campaign to place state-level minimum wage proposals on the ballot in states with hotly contested congressional races.

With polls showing widespread support for an increase in the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage among both Republican and Democratic voters, top Democrats see not only a wedge issue that they hope will place Republican candidates in a difficult position, but also a tool with which to enlarge the electorate in a non-presidential election, when turnout among minorities and youths typically drops off.

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