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September 5, 2013
Column #1,671
Let’s Raise the Minimum Wage
By Mike McManus

It’s time to raise the minimum wage.

The last time it was raised was 2007 to a meager $7.25. In his first term as President, Obama did nothing about it. In his State of the Union this year, he proposed raising it to only $9. He noted that a parent on the minimum wage working full-time does not make enough money to be above the poverty line.

“Until the 1980s earning the minimum wage was enough for a single parent to not live in poverty,” asserts David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute. Raising it to $9 would help close the gap. However, if it had risen at the same rate as average workers, the minimum would be $10.50 today.

However, do you remember the President urging Congress to raise the minimum wage in the months since his State of the Union? I do not.

As I reported last week, when the President stood on the precise spot at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I Have A Dream” speech exactly 50 years earlier, he sounded more like a civil rights leader than a President.

He did recall that King was “seeking jobs as well as justice.”

But Obama forgot that he was in favor of helping the poorest of the poor get $9 an hour rather than $7.25. Sadly, this President is no LBJ, a President committed to passing laws that benefit the most needy.

This is what Obama said, the first part of which quotes King without giving him credit: “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice but it doesn’t bend on its own.”

Hello, Mr. President! What are you proposing to do? Here’s what you could have said:

“…it doesn’t bend on its own. That’s why I am proposing that we raise the minimum wage from $7.25 which was set in 2009, to $9 an hour in two steps: an immediate hike to $8.25 to make up for the erosion of inflation over four years, and then to $9 a year later.

“After that, the minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.”

The President spoke for 29 minutes – about double the time King took. He knew he had a national – indeed a world audience – of tens of millions who longed to hear how America’s first black President would take steps to fulfill King’s Dream of 1963 when he declared:

“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

“America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked `insufficient funds’…One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

The manacles of segregation have thankfully been lifted, but too many African-Americans –and whites - are still living in, or near poverty.

King could do nothing about it. But President Obama could have urged Congress in the shadow of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, to live up to King’s dream by raising the minimum wage.

I was dumbfounded. Fast food workers had already announced they planned to take a one-day strike in 50 cities after the 50th anniversary of King’s speech - to urge passage of a $15 minimum wage. They assumed their President would have at least used the anniversary to implore Congress to pass his hike to $9.

They knew that Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller had proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015. And they knew that when Rep. Miller tried to attach his $10.10 minimum – to another bill in the House, it was defeated with every House Republican voting against it.

By asking for $15, they hoped to build a fire on the President’s left, so his $9 bill would look too small.

Surely, however, they did not expect the President to remain silent.

Ah, but Obama declared, “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice but it doesn’t bend on its own.”

Right, Mr. President!

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