Democrats Seen Gaining in Debate Over Higher Minimum Wage

The debate over increasing the federal minimum wage this year can help Democratic candidates win in key U.S. battleground states, said national labor leaders who plan to press the issue in congressional elections.

Labor groups led by the AFL-CIO federation of 56 unions say campaigns tied to higher wages may hurt Republican governors and legislators in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They cite a poll of 1,000 registered voters in those states that found 66 percent said boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 would be good for the economy.

“Raising wages for Americans, for all workers, is the issue of our time and hopefully will be the issue of this election,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO representing unions with 12.5 million members, said today on a conference call with reporters. “They can yell all they want but this is a winning issue.”

The Feb. 9-11 survey by Hart Research Associates found 48 percent of respondents said Democrats would do a better job of raising wages, three times more than the percentage who said Republicans would do better.

Overall, 58 percent said they are dissatisfied with the economy and 40 percent said they are satisfied.

“Voters who the Democrats need to win are very much motivated by raising wages and hurt by the economy,” said Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO political director.

500,000 Jobs

The effort by President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to raise the minimum wage over three years is being fought in the Republican-led House. Opponents cite a report yesterday from the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s financial scorekeeper, that found raising the minimum wage may cost as many as 500,000 jobs.

“This CBO report reiterates a fundamental principle of our free-market economy: increasing the minimum wage eliminates jobs, cuts off the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and reduces opportunity,” U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement.

Labor unions plan to target Republicans by highlighting dissatisfaction with stagnant wages, said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The current minimum wage has been in place since 2009.

“Our polling shows voters respond favorable to this message,” Saunders said. “It give us an opportunity to frame the 2014 election in very stark terms against our opponents.”

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