Transcript: Rep. George Miller’s remarks on raising the federal minimum wage – Jan. 14, 2014

Partial transcript of remarks by Rep. George Miller (D-California) on raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour at the Economic Policy Institute on Jan. 14, 2014:

…I’m delighted to be here this morning, and I thank EPI for pulling this forum together, for pulling the economists together, to really change the debate that most people would believe is still stuck at a time 15, 20 years ago when they were able to present the idea that an increase in the minimum wage was a hostile act against the economy of the United States of America. I think these economists have proved – the studies have proved that that is just no longer borne out, that that’s rhetoric people are clinging to it desperately in some parts of the business community, in the ideological communities but it just isn’t supported by the evidence.

And Jason [Furman], thank you so much for pulling this together and the support of the White House. I think that the announcement by the President that he wants to get directly involved in the discussion of inequality in this country, on the economic basis of this country, is really, really important.

I think it sets the stage for a broader consideration by the American public of what exactly we’re talking about with an increase in the minimum wage.

You’ve heard the reasons. You see the charts. You’ve looked at the studies. And it becomes pretty clear.

I think what’s different this time, I think, in terms of getting our votes and getting us to the President’s desk for his signature that the scars of the last recession have changed a lot of the thinking of the American public.

There’s [sic] people who are working $15, $20 an hour. There’s [sic] people who are earning $75,000, $80,000, $90,000 a year, and they look at somebody who’s making the minimum wage and they just don’t know how in the hell they can even exist. And I hear it all the time in my district.

I represent a pretty good cross-section of the California economy. I hear people who are earning many times the minimum wage say, “I don’t know how people could do it. You can’t live on this.” That’s the point.

They can’t live on that. They can’t contribute to the economy of their community.

And this is why Governors and Mayors and others are thinking “If I’m going to have a vibrant community in my city or in my state and I want economic growth, somehow we have to get more money on the Main Street.” And poor people don’t put a lot of money in the Main Street.

And I think now people recognize that the minimum wage is one of the tools that we have to use.

And the idea that you still need to survive in your business a wage based upon 1950 wages – that this is your business plan – in 2014 your business plan is to continue to pay 1950 wages? That’s a hell of a deal if you can get away with it. But you shouldn’t be able to get away with it because you’re just visiting [sic] poverty and problems for those workers and in many instances for their families and certainly in most of these families for their children.

And so this becomes an imperative that we have to do this as a nation. There’s no other way to lift it up.

Jason pulled out the chart that shows when you take the combination of the benefits and the wages and you don’t get above the poverty line.

The fact of the matter is most of the people who oppose the minimum wage also oppose the benefits. That’s why the benefits aren’t there today. So they don’t want to help people who can’t earn sufficient wage to support themselves, who go to work everyday, bust their tail to provide services or product or whatever to the community. They don’t want to help lift them up with additional benefits, but they won’t help them with additional wages. Talk about putting people in a trick box here where they can’t get out of it, even though they get up every morning and go and do that job.

And a lot of times when you’re walking through your community, you’ll see people doing jobs that you might say a little prayer, “Thank God I don’t have that job because that’s a tough, difficult, dirty job.” And yet, there’s some suggestion by the opponents of increasing the minimum wage that those people must remain at those 1950 wages…or as Jason pointed out the 1968 wages? That’s sufficient for your son and daughter? That’s sufficient for your spouse? I don’t think so.

And that’s what I think people now recognize because their wage isn’t a great wage today.

But, you know, you have a combination of those who won’t help them out with governmental assistance to keep them above poverty and you have those in the corporate world – some of the largest corporations in the world – that just decided they’re going to take more. They’re just going to take more for themselves, for their shareholders…and they’re just going to continue to take more and not help out the people that allow them to be rich through their hand work. They’ve assembled enough poor workers to make themselves rich.

So, this isn’t just an economic argument. This is an opportunity.

And I think what’s happening and I see the debate – you know, this is taking place in many cities in California and in the state of California – you see the debate in the community a recognition that this is really about our community. This is about what are the resources going to be, whether the services that people are going to buy?

When we did the minimum wage in 2007, Wal-Mart supported it and said because their customers did not have enough money to buy the necessities. This year, they don’t know. They don’t know.

And you see their competitors in the same business saying we want to invest in our workers because we’re interested in worker retention. We want a talented workforce so when you come into that store you get services, you get answers to your questions, you get information you need and that will make you a better consumer…

And that’s why I think we’re at the right place at the right time.

But to be here also with this dramatic showing of the underlying data of this is not a hostile act against the economy. This is, in fact, a reinforcement of the American ideal that you work hard, you get a livable wage.

And our ability to index this wage, our ability to start out at $10.10 – we cannot – we cannot – put into law a permanent sub-minimum wage. That cannot be the hallmark of the American economy, that that’s how we’re going to go forward in this great international competition, we’re going to bring our sub-minimum wage workers to the effort. That’s just not fair to them and this cannot be the right answer for a dynamic American economy…

I think this is a critical battle that has to be engaged in on a daily basis if we’re going to get this country right-side up with a fair sharing of the wages, with a fair sharing of the wealth in this country, so families can thrive – not simply exist.

Thank you.

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