Viewing the minimum wage as an issue that Democrats can use to hurt Republicans in the midterm elections, President Obama is traveling the country to press the issue and keep it prominent in the public’s mind.
His first stop will be a joint appearance in New Bristol, Conn., with four New England governors in favor of raising the minimum wage. Obama wants to lift the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it’s been for five years, to $10.10 an hour.
Last week, after a meeting at the White House with Obama, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said raising the minimum was “waving the white flag of surrender” in the face of a persistently high unemployment rate.
But that didn’t sit well with Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who said Jindal’s remarks were “insane.” Malloy said Jindal’s remark after the White House meeting was a “cheap shot,” illustrating how far Republicans will go to score points with their followers simply by opposing the president.
“In the past we’ve seen wage increases under Republican administrations,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “Now, because a Democratic president is talking about it, they’re automatically against it.”
Raising the minimum wage would be a great benefit for people in poverty, but could also lead to significant job loss, according to a new report by the influential Congressional Budget Office that was immediately hailed by both liberals and conservatives.
The report added fuel to the continuing debate over the wisdom of a wage increase.
If the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, which is where congressional Democrats and President Obama would like to see it go, it could reduce total employment by 500,000 workers by the second half of 2016. But the CBO said it would also lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the average weekly incomes of 16.5 million low-wage workers.
In the report, the CBO did acknowledge that its calculation is an estimate, which means actual job losses could range from “very slight” to as many as 1 million positions.
“The increase in the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers,” the CBO said in the report. “The large majority would have higher wages and family income, but a much smaller group would be jobless and have much lower family income.”
While Democrats seized on the numbers lifted out of poverty as a reason to embrace the proposal, the White House took the unusual step of disputing some of the CBO analysis.
Malloy said Congress should feel pressure to keep low-wage workers from living in poverty.
“What we are talking about is bringing a level of relief to millions upon millions of people in the country,” he said.
According to Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, regional solidarity behind raising the minimum was important.
“So often we hear states fearful of raising the minimum wage because other states around them might not,” he said.
Connecticut and Vermont have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum—Connecticut’s is at $8.25 an hour while Vermont’s is $8.60.