President Obama’s call for increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour from its current level of $7.25 has been enthusiastically received in many quarters who contend that it would move many Americans out of poverty and also boost the income of many in the African-American community.
In his State of the Union message, the president not only called for increasing the minimum wage, but also having it automatically adjusted with inflation. That move, economists say, would boost the earnings of millions of people who work in low-wage positions around the country.
Overall, "African-American workers and people in the low-wage sector of the economy will benefit from this,” said Charles Betsey, a professor of economics at Howard University, in an interview with BET.com.
“According to Labor Department statistics, African-Americans account for about 15 percent of the workforce that would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage,” Betsey said. “That’s a significant portion of the African-American community that would be positively affected.”
That was echoed even more strongly by some legislators, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“The president’s call for an increase in the minimum wage was a tremendous step in the right direction of empowering the working poor in this country,” said Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from Brooklyn.
“Anyone who chooses to work full time should be rewarded with a salary that prevents them from living in poverty,” Jeffries said. “The current minimum wage shamefully doesn’t accomplish that. The wage we have now is not the way we should reward work in America.”
The president made the case strongly in his speech, saying it would raise the incomes of millions of working families.
“It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead,” Obama said in the speech. “For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. 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.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner has dismissed the president’s call for increasing the minimum wage.
“When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it,” the speaker said at a news conference. “Why do we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”
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(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)