The cost of living in the Washington, D.C., metro region has risen 63% in the past decade, but the poverty rate remains stubbornly high; at 19%, it is 4 percentage points above the national average. The solution adopted by lawmakers in the district and surrounding counties in recent weeks has been to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour.
You might expect such a move from liberal D.C., but dozens of states and localities across the country are pushing measures that would hike wage floors and tie future pay increases to inflation. In New Jersey's statewide election last month, a measure to boost the minimum wage by 14% was approved by nearly 61% of voters, a slightly larger percentage than the landslide Governor Chris Christie enjoyed. A recent nationwide Gallup poll showed that 50% of Republicans approve lifting the federal minimum wage.
Sensing a wedge issue, President Obama is also pushing the idea. In a speech on Dec. 4, he reiterated his support for a higher federal wage floor. With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives likely to stymie a national bill, Democrats are hopeful that ballot initiatives in states like Arkansas and South Dakota will successfully split the GOP.
That's unlikely. But the ballot push is a sign that Democrats plan to return to the successful theme of the 2012 elections: GOP scorn for the 47%. Republicans argue that raising minimum wages will end up hurting the working poor by forcing small businesses to cut jobs. "When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens: you get less of it," House Speaker John Boehner said earlier this year. Both sides agree that the issue will feature prominently in next year's midterm elections for the House of Representatives and Senate.