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A Minimum Wage Raise for Federal Contractors Won't Change That Much

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he wasn’t going to wait for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and promised to issue an executive order requiring government contractors pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour. “If you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty,” the president said last night. Before the applause could barely die down, he went on to acknowledge tacitly that his own actions were limited in scope: “Of course to reach millions more,” Obama added, “Congress does need to get on board.”

So just how many workers will his executive order effect? Nailing that down isn’t possible, because the government doesn’t collect data on federal contract workers. The White House says it includes “military base workers who wash dishes, serve food, and do laundry” as well as janitors and construction workers. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, told Bloomberg TV yesterday that “a couple hundred thousand” workers could benefit. Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at the progressive think tank Demos, similarly estimates it could be “a few hundred thousand.”