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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

“In the wealthiest nation on earth,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union speech, “no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

Right! Way to go! Not only does his call to raise America’s minimum wage put some real pop in populism, but it could finally start putting some ethics back in our country’s much-celebrated (but rarely honored) “work ethic.” Kudos to Obama for putting good economics and good morals together — and for putting this long overdue increase on the front burner.

But then came the number: $9 an hour. Excuse me, Mr. President, but if you’re going to bother making the fight, why start out with a number so low that many minimum-wage employees would still “have to live in poverty”?

About 60 percent of America’s lowest-paid workers are women, including single moms struggling awfully hard to make ends meet. Yet, at your $9-an-hour level, a single woman with two children, would, in fact, be paid a poverty wage. And, since you would slowly phase in the increase, she wouldn’t even be paid that until nearly two years from now.

Yes, nine bucks is a buck-seventy-five better than the current low wage of high misery, but it doesn’t even elevate the buying power of our nation’s wage floor back to where it was in 1968. Nor, by the way, does it match the $9.50 level you pledged to push in 2008 when you were running for president.

This is not merely about extending a badly needed helping hand to people struggling to work their way out of poverty, but it’s also about enabling them to give a bottom-up jolt of new energy to our economy, which it desperately needs.

Ironically, while super-rich corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in offshore accounts, refusing to invest in our nation, minimum-wage workers will invest every extra dollar they get in America — spending it right where they live on clothing, food, transportation, health care and other needs.

A 2011 Federal Reserve study found that a $1 hike in the minimum wage produces an additional $2,800 a year in spending by each of those households — so this is no time to shortchange these workers.