When President Barack Obama reiterates his request that Congress raise the minimum wage during his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, he will have a group of over 600 economists in his corner.
The 602 economists — including seven Nobel laureates and eight former presidents of the American Economic Association — have signed an open letter calling on President Obama, House leaders John Boehner (R-OH), Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016, and index it to protect against inflation thereafter.
“Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller have introduced legislation to accomplish this,” reads the letter written by Economic Policy Institute president Lawrence Mishel and Harvard University professor Lawrence Katz. “The increase to $10.10 would mean that minimum-wage workers who work full time, full year would see a raise from their current salary of roughly $15,000 to roughly $21,000.”
President Obama has already signaled his support for the Harkin-Miller bill, as have Minority Leader Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. Republican leaders have consistently opposed such a move, however; when President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage to just $9 per hour in his 2013 address, Speaker Boehner scoffed, “When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it,” and rhetorically asked, “Why would we make it harder for small employers to hire people?”
According to the PhDs who signed the EPI letter, however, Boehner is flatly wrong.
“In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market,” the letter reads. “Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front.”
Economics experts are not the only Americans who believe that the minimum wage should be increased; poll after poll find that raising the minimum wage has broad bipartisan support, and could be a key issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
The full EPI letter and list of signatories can be read here.
Photo: Jeffrey Simms Photography via Flickr