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Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

A Minimum Wage Increase Is Great, But Full Employment Would be Better

If we want to make a serious dent in income inequality, raising the minimum wage is a Band-Aid—the first step must be a genuine push for jobs for every American who wants to work.

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President Obama called for a higher minimum wage in his State of the Union this year, but the push was sidelined by a year of crisis governance, Republican intransigence, and self-inflicted wounds. Now, with a settled budget, a working health care website—and growing concern with income inequality—Democrats are acting on their rhetoric with a broad effort to increase to the federal minimum wage. Here’s more from the New York Times:

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.

“It puts Republicans on the wrong side of an important value issue when it comes to fairness,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s senior adviser. “You can make a very strong case that this will be a helpful issue for Democrats in 2014. But the goal here is to actually get it done. That’s why the president put it on the agenda.”

As the Times reports, Democrats are working with unions and other activists to place minimum wage measures on ballots in contested congressional districts, with the hope that they’ll boost liberal enthusiasm in a cycle where turnout favors Republicans.

I’m skeptical that there’s any electoral utility to pushing for a higher minimum wage—the single biggest influence on voters is the short-term economy—but there’s no question that this is worth doing. At $7.25, the current minimum wage is at a relative low when you adjust for inflation. The congressional proposal, which would bring the wage to just over $10, is a modest boost that increases the value of the minimum wage to where it was in the 1960s and 70s.

• Category: National • Tags: Jamelle Bouie