Poverty, income levels drive minimum wage debate

STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — “Give America a raise!” President Barack Obama implored Congress in his State of the Union address.

But it would cost jobs, Republicans warned.

The political divide over raising the federal minimum wage is deep, driven by politics, ideology and demographics. Democrats represent more low-wage workers than Republicans do.

According to the Census Bureau, nearly every congressional district with a large concentration of poor people is represented by a Democrat. There are 40 House districts where at least 20 percent of families live in poverty. Thirty-eight are represented by Democrats. The government defines poverty as an annual income below $11,670 for a single person living alone, and below $23,850 for a family of four.

Of the 100 poorest districts, Democrats represent 73.

The Census Bureau says 43 congressional districts have per capita incomes under $20,000 a year. All but 10 are represented by Democrats.

Obama and Democrats in Congress made a big push this year to raise the federal minimum wage, but they were blocked by congressional Republicans.

Senate Republicans voted to block a Democratic bill in April. In the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to bring the bill up for a vote.

The Democratic bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016.

“This will help families,” Obama told Congress in his State of the Union Address. “It will give businesses customers with more money to spend.”

Boehner said, “When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”

An Associated Press-GfK poll found that 55 percent of Americans support a minimum wage increase, while 21 percent oppose it and 23 percent are neutral. But congressional districts don’t always mirror national sentiment.

An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office highlights the political divide:

Democrats touted the finding that increasing the minimum wage would boost earnings for more than 16.5 million people and lift 900,000 people above the federal poverty level by 2016.

Republicans noted that CBO also said the bill would cut employment by roughly 500,000 jobs.

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Online:

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NYZ3ivuhcU

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter at http://twitter.com/stephenatap

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