Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued to build her reputation as a champion of progressive causes when she suggested during a committee hearing that minimum wage ought to be at $22 an hour if it had kept up with productivity.
Speaking at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing last week, Warren, D-Mass., advocated in support of President Barack Obama's push to increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour.
Grilling Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a professor from the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was testifying before the committee on the economic impacts of the minimum wage, Warren asked about the disparity between the increase in the minimum wage in 50 years compared to the increase in workforce output.
"If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. So my question is Mr. Dube, with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn't go to the worker."
In response, Dube said that the a minimum wage that had tracked with income increases for the top 1 percent of earners would actually be more than $30.
Warren was not advocating for a $22 minimum wage, which would triple the current rate, but instead pointing to increased income inequality between the working poor and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. She cited a March 2012 study from the Center for Economic Policy and Research showing that the minimum wage lagged behind nearly every related economic benchmark.
Polls show widespread support for an increase in the minimum wage to $9, as pushed by the president in January's State of the Union address, with more than 70 percent of Americans in favor.
Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage would slow hiring and hurt workers. But economists disagree -- with each other -- on whether a minimum wage hike would have net positive or negative effects on hiring, employment, and company profits.