George Miller helps pitch new minimum-wage bill

The federal minimum wage gradually would rise to $10.10 per hour from its current $7.25, and then see automatic annual increases linked to changes in cost of living, under a bill introduced today by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 also would gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers – now at $2.13 an hour – for the first time in more than 20 years, bringing it to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. The bill comes three weeks after President Obama highlighted increasing the minimum wage in his State of the Union address.

“Income inequality is one of the greatest threats to America’s long-term economic vitality, yet we are widening that inequality with wages that subject people to live in poverty,” Miller said in a news release. “Even during a so-called ‘golden age of corporate profits,’ millions of working families are falling behind because their paychecks aren’t keeping up. That’s immoral and that’s undermining our economy.”

Raising the minimum wage is especially important for working women, who make up a disproportionate share of minimum-wage workers today, Miller added. “As we mark Women’s History Month, we should ensure that working women and families don’t fall into poverty even though they work for a living. It’s time for them to get a raise. It’s time to grow our economy from the bottom up. It’s time for $10.10.”

The lawmakers were joined at today’s Capitol Hill news conference by Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Andy Shallal, owner of several Washington-area restaurants; Amie Crawford, a Chicago fast-food worker; and Gregory Reynoso, a New York pizza delivery driver, who discussed why raising the minimum wage is good for both the economy and for working families.

Congressional conservatives are sure to oppose the bill, contending it will be a job-killer.

“This ill-conceived and dangerous wage hike bill would be a disaster for the entry-level labor market,” Michael Saltsman, research director at the conservative Employment Policies Institute, said in a news release. “It would harm the employment prospects of thousands of entry-level and low-skill employees while failing to reduce poverty or boost the economy.”

But Miller and Harkin contend that’s not true, and note the minimum wage has lost more than 30 percent of its buying power since its peak in 1968; if it had kept up with inflation since then, it would be worth approximately $10.56 per hour today. The minimum wage today pays only $15,000 per year, which is $3,000 below the poverty level for a family of three; this bill would boost the minimum wage to $21,000, lifting families above the poverty line.

The lawmakers say more than 30 million American workers will get a raise under their bill; more than half of whom are women, and 88 percent are adults. And they say increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour will increase the Gross Domestic Product by nearly $33 billion over three years as workers spend their raises in their local businesses and communities; that economic activity will generate 140,000 new jobs over those three years, they say.

Miller – the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce – has championed increases to the federal minimum wage for years. He was the House author of the 2007 bill that increased the minimum wage to $7.25 after 10 years without any increases, and he led more than 100 House Democrats in introducing a bill last summer that would’ve brought it to $9.80 per hour; that 2012 bill was never heard in committee.

Harkin chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.