Obama Administration Seeks Allies In Fight For A Higher Minimum Wage

President Obama expressed a desire to raise the minimum wage during his State of the Union address, thrusting the issue back into the national spotlight. In a Department of Labor blog post published yesterday, Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris put forth an argument for why raising the minimum wage is long overdue.

The Secretary argued that an increase would benefit 15 million workers directly. He asserted that this would increase the productivity of American businesses and strengthen the economy.

Last week Harris toured the country to speak with workers earning at or just above the federal minimum wage. He has met with workers in both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cleveland, Ohio. One such worker was Kizzie, a nursing assistant who asked, “How am I supposed to tell my daughter that I’m not going to make the tuition payment?”

Unsurprisingly, the Obama Administration has drawn heavy criticism since President Obama announced his hope to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour.

James Dorn argued two days ago at RealClearPolitics that, “when the real minimum wage is pushed above the prevailing market wage for unskilled workers, jobs are lost and others never created. The government can promise a higher wage rate, but, if a worker loses her job, her income (hourly wage x hours worked) will be zero.”

Not everyone is so quick to treat this argument as fact.

“If the minimum wage is kept to a reasonable level, it can be a good idea,” Contributing Writer Nathan Lewis said in a Forbes article published yesterday. “A $9 minimum wage would be 54% of the median wage of $16.57 per hour as of May 2011. That was nearly two years ago, so call it 50% of the median wage. This level seems about right to me.”

Lewis argues that no one company gains a competitive wage advantage if both pay their workers at the minimum $9 an hour. Companies looking for cheaper labor can hire overseas, but “wages in places like China or Vietnam are so much lower than those in the U.S., that most anything that can be outsourced to low-wage foreign countries already has been. Thus, that too is a non-issue.”

The arguments made to Secretary Harris appeal to a different degree of logic altogether.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to say that a family needs a living wage to make it,” Deshanne, who currently lives in a Cleveland-area homeless shelter, said to the Secretary. Her husband works at a minimum wage job. “It doesn’t take all of these politics to do what is right. It just takes the mindset of the people who are sitting in Washington to change, to say I will do unto my neighbor as I want done unto me.”

Today Secretary Harris is speaking with workers in Orlando, Florida. The Obama Administration anticipates continued criticism of the idea in the days ahead, but, for whatever reason, that criticism does not seem to come from the workers earning the federal minimum wage.

[Image via the US Department of Labor]