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Labor Secretary: Raising minimum wage is 'job one'

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez called raising the federal minimum wage a top priority on Friday.
Mira Furman (C) joins with fast food workers to protest the minimum wage in New York on Aug. 29, 2013.
Mira Furman (C) joins with fast food workers to protest the minimum wage in New York on Aug. 29, 2013.

Raising the federal minimum wage is a top priority for the White House, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Friday.

"Unfinished business starts with increasing the minimum wage, and that's something which is job one for this administration," he said during a speech commemmorating the 75th birthday of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Rumblings of a renewed push to increase the federal minimum wage began last week when a White House official official reportedly told the New York Times that the president supports legislation which would set the wage at $10.10 per hour and tie future hikes to increases in the Consumer Price Index. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.

The administration has avoided going on the record in support of the proposed law, and Perez did not mention it in his speech. However, after the speech, a Department of Labor spokesperson confirmed to msnbc that the Labor Secretary supports the bill. President Obama’s previous wage hike proposal would have set the minimum wage at $9 per hour.

Perez singled out Gov. Jerry Brown of California for particular praise, noting that Brown signed a law in September that will eventually bring the state's minimum wage to $10 per hour, up from $8. Perez also celebrated a New Jersey referendum, passed earlier this month, which raised that state's minimum wage from the national minimum up to $8.25.

This article has been updated.

"Over 60% of the voters in this most recent election passed a referendum increasing the minimum wage in that state," Perez said, holding up the measure's success as evidence that such hikes can enjoy bipartisan support. A recent poll found that 76% of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour.

Activists across the country have increasingly been agitating for a significantly higher minimum wage hike of $15 per hour. A referendum bringing the wage up to that level in the small town of SeaTac, Wash., passed earlier this month. On Monday, the New York Times editorial board applauded SeaTac's new law.

"Over the last half-century, American workers have achieved productivity gains that can easily support a $15-an-hour minimum wage," the editorial board wrote. "In fact, if the minimum wage had kept pace over time with the average growth in productivity, it would be about $17 an hour. The problem is that the benefits of that growth have flowed increasingly to profits, shareholders and executives, not workers."