This week, California approved a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016, leading NOW host Alex Wagner and her panel to wonder if President Obama could do the same thing at the federal level.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the president promised to raise the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $9, but things have gone quiet on that front since.
“You have this kind of sclerotic Congress that obviously isn’t going to pass a minimum wage increase,” said Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Josh Green. “In fact, most of the direction in Congress has actually been cutting benefits for the poor, working poor, Food Stamps and that sort of thing.”
The last time Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage was back in 2007.
“Just on a purely political level, I feel like this is a winning issue, even if it can’t get it through Congress,” Wagner said, noting that she firmly believed in raising the minimum wage to improve living standards for those at the lowest end of the income scale (a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker earns only $15,080 a year).
Still, many economists believe that raising wages inevitably leads to less hiring.
“The empirical evidence on the minimum wage is very mixed,” said Slate’s Matthew Yglesias. “There are studies showing that it hurts job creation, there are studies showing that it doesn’t hurt job creation. I think the time we’re at right now as a country when profit margins are at this unusually high level–if there’s a moment when increasing the minimum wage will just people get paid more and won’t hurt job growth, it probably would be right about now.”
While Washington State’s $9.19 an hour minimum wage is currently the highest in the nation, Wagner noted that five southern states–Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina–have never passed a minimum wage law.