Movement at the state level to boost the minimum wage next year could give President Obama some much-needed juice in his stalled push to raise the federal minimum and peg it once and for all to inflation.
Seven states are set to raise their minimum wage on Jan. 1 in a move estimated to benefit hundreds of thousands of workers. Despite concerns that government-mandated wages will make skittish employers even more reluctant to hire workers, supporters say the changes are not drastic enough to dent the size of the payroll, and if anything it will help the economy by putting more money in the pockets of those most likely to spend it.
Employee advocates remain hopeful on Obama’s pledge to raise the federal rate by more than $2 to $9.50 an hour, though the president let that slide along with dozens of other campaign goals while he invested political capital in health care, financial regulation and stimulus over the past two years. With states pushing ahead of the federal curve on the minimum wage, it could give the president some leverage to hit the talking point next year.
“There’s a growing recognition that strengthening (the minimum wage) is a key part of economic recovery,” said Paul Sonn, legal co-director at the National Employment Law Project. He acknowledged the difficulty a Republican-led House could pose to a sudden minimum wage campaign but noted the precedent — former President Bill Clinton in 1996 secured a federal wage increase despite the GOP takeover in Congress two years earlier.