Higher Minimum Wage: Public Agrees But Republicans Remain Divided

PHOTO: Demonstrators gather in the hundreds to protest minimum wage standards in the United States on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at Union Station in Washington DC.

Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Republicans in Congress are divided over a measure that most Americans support: raising minimum wage.

More than 70 percent of the public supports President Obama’s proposal to increase minimum wage to $9 per hour from the current $7.25 rate, according to a Pew Research Center/USA Today survey conducted in February. Just a quarter of the public opposes raising minimum wage.

And while Democrats and independents, regardless of income and where they fall along the liberal-conservative spectrum, support the idea, Republicans are much more divided.

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, less than a third of Tea Party Republicans favor the wage hike while about 60 percent of Republicans who disagree with the Tea Party want to see the wage increased. Republicans from families earning more than $75,000 are far more likely to oppose the raise while those who make below $30,000 are likely to support it.

A minimum-wage earner today makes about $14,500 per year, a figure that hasn’t changed since 2009. As housing prices and the cost of living have soared in recent decades, the poverty level, which allows people to receive public assistance, has not kept pace.

In 1999, for instance, the poverty line was $16,700 for a family of four when households in the Los Angeles area spent about $44,750 a year. The poverty level has gone up less than $6,000, while average expenditures have increased by nearly $10,000 during that time.

One option is to link the minimum wage to inflation so that cost-of-living increases trigger a higher minimum wage. That’s an idea Obama proposed during the 2013 State of the Union.

But Republicans, like Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), have countered that increasing minimum wage will actually hurt people in those jobs because small businesses will be forced to lay off workers, which could drive up the price of goods and services.

Obama doesn’t see it that way.

“A whole lot of folks out there would probably need less help from government,” he said of raising minimum wage during the State of the Union. “In fact, working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher."

It seems most Americans agree with him.

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