As the 2016 campaign season gets underway, working families across the country will be very interested in where presidential candidates stand on raising the minimum wage.
Currently, the Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour or roughly $15,000 annually, far below the $23,500 government's poverty threshold for a family of four. Some candidates have already made their positions on the minimum wage clear, but there are many that still have not.
Democratic primary candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders have come out in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15.00 over the next several years, a living wage that would lift tens of millions of individuals out of poverty. Others have remained mum on the subject, including former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee.
Perhaps most glaringly silent is the front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She has spoken many times about making sure that individuals will make enough money to survive, including most recently at the Fight for $15 conference in June where she said, "It is wrong that so many people stand against you thinking that they can steal your wages with no consequences. That even stacks the deck higher for those at the top." However, Clinton has declined to comment on whether or not she would support a $15 an hour minimum wage, or when she would like to see a wage hike implemented. In 2007, as a Senator, she supported raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour and in May, 2014 she finally came out in favor of raising it to $10.10 an hour.
The Republican primary, however, has become a race to the bottom for promoting anti-working family policies. Almost all of the Republican candidates support keeping the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.
Some, however, have gone even farther off the tracks. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has called for the elimination of the minimum wage. Anti-worker Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has said that he doesn't think that the minimum wage "serves a purpose." Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee admits that $7.25 is a poverty wage, but does not support raising it.
Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump supports creating two minimum wages, one for young workers, and a slightly higher one for older workers, so long as it doesn't create a disincentive for business development. He remains vague about specifics.
There are, however, some Republican candidates who have come out in support of raising the minimum wage. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum supports an increase smaller than $10.10 an hour, and has stated that he thinks it is important that Republicans support a wage hike to reach out to the middle class. Dr. Ben Carson also supports raising the wage, although he didn't specify by how much. Carson referred to it as a way for individuals to be removed from public assistance programs.
A 2014 study by the Center for American Progress showed that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cause a six percent drop in welfare enrollments, saving the American people over four billion dollars a year.
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The presidential primaries will offer an opportunity for a broad debate about economic policy and income inequality. It would behoove candidates to take a strong stance on raising the minimum wage. A cost of living restoration to just $11.00 per hour would have people making as much as workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation.
So far this year, despite Congressional inaction, twenty states and cities are debating legislation to raise their minimum wage. Most recently, Los Angeles voted to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 and to tie future increases to inflation. Last year, Seattle voted to increase its wage to $15 by 2017.
Tacoma, Washington's city council will vote this fall on a wage hike that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 for large businesses, and 2024 for small business.
The minimum wage is not only being debated in state legislatures and city councils, but has also become a ballot issue across the country. Citizens in states and cities across the country are collecting petition signatures for ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage.
In Maine, a group of labor and faith-based groups is pushing to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016. This is being done because the State Senate was unable to pass an increase last June.
And in 2014, four conservative states had ballot initiatives to raise their state's minimum wages. Not surprisingly, voters in South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas and Alaska all voted overwhelming to raise their minimum wages, with some even tying future increases to the rate of inflation. Voters nationwide also support raising the minimum wage. A survey from Hart Research last January showed that three-quarters of all Americans support raising the minimum wage, and a poll from Gallup in 2013 showed support from over half of all Republicans for raising the minimum wage.
There is also growing conservative support for raising the minimum wage. Supporters of a hike include former Republican Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty and Illinois' Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. Even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and conservative author Phyllis Schlafly support raising the minimum wage. Former 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney also supports raising the minimum wage, claiming, "Our party is all about more jobs and better pay."
It's time for the candidates from all parties to reject the corporate dogma that allows companies to pay exploitative wages and force their employees onto public assistance. And it is time for CEOs and members of Congress to raise the minimum wage so people can provide for themselves and for their families.
Visit timeforaraise.org for more information.