WASHINGTON — The Senate should take up a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, two Democratic senators said Wednesday, despite a congressional report saying the proposed nearly $3 hike would cost 500,000 jobs.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, supported a bill introduced in November by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would boost the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016 and index it to inflation. The bill has been referred to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee but has not been acted on further.
The minimum wages in 20 states currently exceed the federal minimum wage. However, the proposed $10.10 per hour would top the minimum wage in all 50 states. Currently, Washington’s minimum wage is the highest nationwide at $9.70 per hour, according to Department of Labor statistics.
President Barack Obama also supported a minimum wage hike at an event in Connecticut on Wednesday, saying the increase would benefit 28 million Americans. Obama signed an executive order in January that raised the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers. He called on Congress to extend that raise to all workers.
“This isn’t about politics, it’s about common sense,” he said. “If you work 40 hours a week, you should not live in poverty here in Connecticut or other states.”
A report released in February by the Congressional Budget Office said a smaller increase in the minimum wage, such as $9 instead of $10.10, would lessen the number of jobs that will be lost, but a $10.10 minimum wage would lead to a loss of 500,000 jobs.
“Let’s face it, the CBO has got it backwards,” said Boxer. “We have raised the minimum wage 18 times since 1956, and the economy has added 80 million jobs. So if anyone tells you that when you raise the minimum raise, you lose jobs, just cite the facts.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed with the CBO study. He cited it as evidence that a minimum wage increase would be a “job killer.” A statement released on his website Wednesday said that upping the minimum wage to $10.10 “will destroy up to 1 million American jobs.”
Other top Republicans could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Despite the opposition, Boxer and Hirono pledged to continue pushing for the increase.
Boxer said the current rate is unfair to minimum wage employees. A full-time worker who is paid $7.25 per hour earns about $15,000 per year.
“What if they said when the minimum wage was a buck, that we would never lose jobs and it was still a buck?,” she asked. “Certainly almost everybody would have a job, but it would be almost like slavery. Almost.”
Hirono said the hike is important to her because her mother earned minimum wage after she came to the U.S. from Japan. She struggled financially to take care of Hirono and her two siblings.
“I know from my own family’s firsthand experience that the minimum wage is not enough to keep food on the table and pay rent,” she said.