Regardless of what Congress does, state should raise its minimum wage
Colorado hasn’t waited for the federal government in the past when the Legislature recognized that low-wage workers were falling too far behind a living wage.
As Los Angeles Times columnist Walter Hamilton wrote, “President Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage highlights the vastly different rates already in place across the country, with 19 states having minimums that exceed the current U.S. level.”
Colorado is among the minority of states that link their minimum wage to inflation. As a result of adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage in Colorado rose from last year’s $7.78 to $8 per hour at the beginning of 2014.
During this same period, the federal minimum wage, and the states that link their rates to it, remained at $7.25 per hour. It has been at that rate since 2009, when Congress last adjusted the minimum wage.
A few states, including Colorado, moved in 2009 to index their state minimum wage to inflation so low-wage workers would not lag further behind a living wage as inflation reduced their purchasing power.
However, the Colorado wage is still well below the $10.10 per hour that President Barack Obama says is essential to sustain a couple just above the poverty line.
Leading by example, the president announced in his speech Feb. 12 that he would raise the minimum wage for some low-wage government contract workers to $10.10 an hour.
Polls suggest the American people are solidly behind the president’s effort to reduce poverty by raising the minimum wage. According to a recent study released by The Center for American Progress, 86 percent of Americans agree that government has a responsibility to use federal resources to combat poverty. Eighty percent believe the minimum wage should be raised and indexed to inflation.
Obama is encouraging the Senate to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. Their bill would raise the federal minimum hourly wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 in three yearly increments of 95 cents.
Once the minimum wage reaches $10.10, it would be indexed to inflation to protect future earnings.
Research by the respected Economic Policy Institute shows “the Harkin-Miller bill would give a raise to 27.8 million workers, who would receive about $35 billion in additional wages. A $10.10 minimum wage would increase GDP by $22 billion, creating roughly 85,000 new jobs.”
Despite some Republican support for raising the federal minimum wage, it would be naïve to think that the Senate, after denying long-term unemployed workers the final three months of extended unemployment benefits they were promised, would hesitate to freeze the minimum wage at its current level.
As the campaign for America’s Future reported, “Last March House Republicans voted unanimously against raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 a hour. Their vote symbolized the party’s unity in protecting the top 1 percent of our society while ignoring the majority of Americans.”
On Feb. 12, President Obama announced his executive order to raise the rate for contract federal workers. Though it was largely a symbolic gesture, it sets a standard for the states to consider as they review their own minimum wage legislation.
It is probable that the federal minimum wage will be raised, though likely not in the short term, and not to $10.10 per hour. A compromise at $9 has been floated by the White House, but no agreement has been reached.
While Congress dithers, states like Colorado that have already indexed their minimum wages to inflation should act on their own to raise their current minimum wage to the proposed federal standard.
Just as raising the federal minimum wage would stimulate the national economy, reduce unemployment and get the nation a little closer to the $15-per-hour minimum wage required to actually lift minimum-wage earners to a living wage, Colorado could realize similar gains in the state by moving ahead of the federal government and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
The need for a higher minimum wage seems to me indisputable. Colorado workers should not have to wait for our dysfunctional Congress to act when the positive consequences of a minimum wage within the state are so compelling.