WASHINGTON, July 24 (UPI) -- Five years to the day since the last increase in the federal minimum wage, Democrats are renewing a call to bring the minimum up to $10.10 an hour.
In a speech in Los Angeles Thursday, President Obama drew attention to the anniversary, and in Washington, Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Al Franken of Minnesota, and Rep. George Miller of California urged reconsideration of the measure that failed in April.
On July 24, 2009, the hourly wage increased from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour. But thanks to inflation, the value of those dollars has decreased, meaning minimum wage workers would have made more than $6 billion in the past five years if the rate had kept up.
The Democrats' proposal, which will likely see another vote in the Senate before the end of this year, would raise the wage to $10.10 and index it to inflation, meaning it would periodically adjust to rise as inflation does.
Still, even if a bill were to pass the Senate, the House has shown little interest in passing such legislation. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., presented an anti-poverty plan Thursday which outlines ideological opposition to raising the minimum wage.
"A higher minimum wage would increase some working families' take-home pay, but it would also price some people out of the labor market," his plan says. "Businesses would pass their higher labor costs to consumers by raising prices. And some businesses would simply hire fewer workers. Some research suggests the number of working families that fall into poverty because of a minimum-wage hike is larger than the number of families that escape poverty."
Instead, Ryan's plan would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers, and promises to close "corporate welfare" loopholes and eliminate ineffective poverty programs.
But Harkin, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said more than 60 percent of small-business owners in the country polled said they support raising the minimum wage. Business owners understand that the people who would benefit are their customers, he said, and putting more money in their hands means better sales and more jobs.
Chris Sommers, co-owner of Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis and D.C., said his restaurants raised their entry wages to $10.10 an hour several months ago, and have sense found they saved money from needing to train fewer employees and by wasting less food because of errors from inexperienced workers.
"A sense of right and wrong may have sparked our decision, but it was old-fashioned number crunching that showed us we could afford it," Sommers said, adding that he plans to open two new restaurants, in Cincinnati and Miami, creating at least 100 new jobs.
In his speech in LA Thursday, Obama promised to make the increase in the minimum wage one of his priorities for the remainder of his term. While he was there, some of his famous friends at Funny or Die helped him out with a new viral video.
In the video, Mary Poppins quits her job because she's only paid $7.25 an hour, when "just a $3 increase makes a living wage."
The video highlights the issue in the most delightful way (although there's a bit of child-unfriendly language at the very end):