Casey presses case for raising U.S. minimum wage

Posted: January 23, 2014

A week before President Obama is to deliver his State of the Union address, Sen. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania is joining a growing chorus of Democratic legislators calling on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.

In a wide-ranging conference call with reporters Tuesday that focused on income inequality, Casey reiterated his support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act, a bill introduced last year that he cosponsored. Supported by Obama and other Democrats, the bill would raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from its current $7.25.

The boost would take place in increments of 95 cents in each of the next three years, followed by inflation-based increases in years after that.

"Raising the minimum wage can lift all boats," Casey said, arguing that the legislation would be a boon to the nation's economy. "The evidence is pretty clear that it can be a big job booster."

Casey had planned to make his remarks at 30th Street Station but canceled that appearance because of the heavy snow.

Pennsylvania's minimum wage, currently at the federal rate of $7.25, is slightly less than those in some neighboring states. New Jersey, New York, and Ohio all recently voted to raise their minimum wages. New Jersey's is $8.25.

About 700,000 workers in Pennsylvania would benefit from a minimum-wage increase, according to Casey's office. The bill, which Casey said he expects to get to a Senate vote as early as March, faces grim prospects in the Republican-controlled House.

Republicans who oppose the measure argue that increasing the minimum wage would do little to spur job creation, and in some cases could cause businesses, especially smaller ones, to reduce hiring.

Casey's renewed calls to increase wages come as Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have been touting income inequality as a major talking point for 2014. The senator's office released a set of data on Tuesday that showed that in a state where the median household income was $51,225 in 2012, the statewide poverty rate was 13.3 percent.

Casey said he was surprised by trends in some smaller counties - for example, Forest County, in northwestern Pennsylvania, with a population of less than 8,000, had a poverty rate of 16 percent in 2012. At 28.4 percent, Philadelphia had by far the highest poverty rate, according to the census. Bucks County had the lowest, at 5.8 percent.

"What this data shows you is that the Great Recession we all lived through was not limited to only urban areas or cities," he said. "It was really a recession that hit across the board."

In addition to increasing the federal minimum wage, Casey said the income gap can be narrowed only by a series of steps, including greater investment in early childhood education and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

"There's a menu of things that we have to do to increase hiring," he said, "because job growth is one of the best poverty reducers we have."

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