Transcript: Sen. Tom Harkin’s remarks on raising the federal minimum wage – Jan. 14, 2014

Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour at the Economic Policy Institute on Jan. 14, 2014:

…This is one of the most important issues that we can deal with and to give to a boost to our economy…

I just want to focus on a couple of things.

One, you know, there used to be a consensus in the Congress about dealing with issues like this, about priorities such as the minimum wage.

At least in our time here, there used to be a universal agreement that people who work hard everyday, who are taking care of our kids, our elders, running the cash registers, stocking shelves of stores, delivering a meal or a cup of coffee, that these workers – worker bees out there – are really valuable – valuable to our economy.

And quite frankly, when you think about it, they’re really the ones that make our country run. You know, if I miss a day at work, it’s not a big deal. But someone who is running that cash register, running that store, doing these minimum wage jobs, if they don’t show up, things kind of grind down a little bit.

So we always agreed that they were valuable, and we used to agree that if you worked hard, played by the rules, you could have a good economic stake in our society – you could keep a roof over your head, you could put money away for a rainy day, you could have a secure retirement.

But in recent years, it’s been alarming to see how these fundamental principles and values are being degraded in our public policies. For many, the new attitude is “Tough luck. You’re on your own. If you struggle, even if you face insurmountable challenges, it’s probably your own fault.”

It used to be – we used to always just hear this on talk radio. Now, it’s become part of the discourse in Congress almost every day.

We hear how minimum wage workers don’t deserve a fair wage because they’re not worth $10.10 an hour.

Or that – get this – raising the minimum wage really won’t help lift people out of poverty. [Laughter]…If you get more people more money to take home and put in their pockets, you’re not helping them out get out of poverty. I heard Mr. Rubio say that last week. It’s ludicrous on its face.

The predominant attitude seems to be that if you’re a minimum wage worker, you got to just get a better job or maybe work harder. Tell that to the single mother who’s working two jobs trying to put food on the table, figure out how to keep her kids safe and cared for while she’s working two jobs.

So, the Republican Party may not understand the challenges that this single mother is facing but the American people do.

People are speaking up. They’re calling for better wages and working conditions. They see our friends and neighbors struggling, falling behind. That’s why there’s a groundswell of support across the country and even across party lines for a fair minimum wage.

And as this pressure continues, as it becomes clear for raising the minimum wage that it’s the right thing to do both for workers and the economy, I’m confident that a strong majority in Congress will see this as something that we must pass.

As has been stated, Congressman [George] Miller and I have introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over three years.

But there’s another part of this that’s very important and that is raising the minimum wage for tip workers, which has not been done in over two decades.

When I tell people that the minimum wage for tip workers is $2.13 an hour, they just don’t believe it.

I actually have a paycheck that I’ve used – a copy of a paycheck I’ve actually used from a worker here in the District of Columbia, and the paycheck – the actual paycheck – is for $0.00 because after they took out all the withholdings, she got no money. She had to rely on her tips. Well, tips may be up one day and down the next, up one, down the next. You can’t rely on that.

Well, when our bill is fully implemented, the minimum wage will no longer be a poverty wage. It will lift people out of poverty, and the other thing is indexing so that it can’t fall down below that again.

Now, here again, I want to just give a little warning. There are going to be attempts to lower this from $10.10 down. $8.00, $8.50, $9.00 and then index it. Well, that will lock in a sub-poverty wage and index for the future.

Now, George and I have worked on this for a long time, and we’re willing to negotiate. People have said, “Well, it’s just your way or the highway.” I’m not saying that.

And we’ve already negotiated – at least on the Senate side. As you know, we have agreed that the first tranche would go in in six months rather than three months. That was in the Senate bill. We agreed to put in a tax provision for small businesses for expensing of capital equipment. I think there’s some negotiation that can happen on that.

But $10.10 is a bottom line. We cannot go below that.

As you just heard Jason [Furman] say, if we kept up the minimum wage since 1968, it’d be about $10.75 an hour.

So, to somehow try to bring below that and lock in a sub-poverty minimum wage for the future is just not acceptable.

There are other things we might do. We’re always willing to talk, always willing to negotiate. But on this, that’s the bottom line. We can’t go below $10.10.

The new study that we have say that 4.6 million people will be lifted out of [poverty]- 6.8 million after the second year after implementation. Lot of statistics.

Someone worked out for me to say just for the minimum wage worker, this increase could pay for seven months of groceries, six months of rent, or buy an additional 1,600 gallon of gasoline a year. So people who say it doesn’t make a difference – that’s a real difference in a person’s life.

So again, we think the American people are calling on us to do this fairly and unequivocally. The pressure will build.

I know people will say, “Well, can you get something done like that in an election year?”

Well, maybe better in an election year than any other year. We saw that happen in 1996 when we were both here, and we both worked on that in 1996. And the pressure – when the Republicans had the House and the Senate and President Clinton was President – we got that through because the pressure built and Republicans didn’t want to be out there on the end of that line saying “No.”

I think that’s going to build during this year too, and I believe we can actually get this done. So, I’m very optimistic about it. It’s going to take a lot of hard work but I’m glad that we’re all together on it now. We’ve got the data to back it up, and hopefully we can get this done…

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