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Minimum Wage an Issue for Workers and Politicians Alike

On Monday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley vetoed legislation that would have required “big-box” retailers like Wal-Mart to pay at least $10 an hour, a contentious action that forced him to defend his veto in a news conference on Tuesday while angry protestors gathered outside. Meanwhile, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a raise in the minimum wage for Californian workers to $8 an hour by 2008, which will make it the highest minimum wage in the US. This is the third time Gov. Schwarzenegger has been given minimum wage legislation; the first two bills he vetoed. Both Daley and Schwarzenegger are up for re-election in November.

The two events highlight the increasing role that the minimum wage increase is playing in election politics. In the last year, ten state legislatures have passed laws increasing their minimum wage. Six states Ñ Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, and Montana Ñ have ballot initiatives in November to raise their state’s minimum wage above the federal standard of $5.15 an hour. If even three of the initiatives pass, a majority of states will have minimum wages above the federal level for the first time in the minimum wage’s history. Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

If the federal minimum wage is not increased by December, the US will have gone the longest period of time without an increase in minimum wage since it was enacted in 1938. The House of Representatives approved legislation in July that would have tied a large increase in the federal minimum wage to tax breaks and a permanent reduction in the estate tax. Senate Democrats vetoed the legislation, calling the marrying of tax breaks for the wealthy (at the tune of $750 billion) to an increase in pay for low-wage workers unacceptable.

Sources:

USA Today 9/12/06, 9/13/06; LA Times 9/13/06; Mercury News 9/13/06; New York Times 9/12/06; Chicago Tribune 9/13/06; Associated Press 9/12/06

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