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Minimum wage, maximum politics

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For "progressive" economists in the United States, scoring policy points has gotten easy. "We have a tremendous amount of ammunition," says Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington. "Economic growth is not the biggest problem. It is distribution of that growth." He's referring to the fact that as the rich grow super-rich, most people in the US are running on an economic treadmill.

The EPI has been churning out study after study harping on America's growing income gap.

Late last month, for example, an EPI report noted: "In 2005, an average Chief Executive Officer was paid 821 times as much as a minimum wage earner, who earns just $5.15 an hour. An average CEO earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum-wage worker earns all year."

Since polls show more than 80 percent of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage, the issue has become easy political pickings for Democrats.

"Last week," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) of New York in late June, "the Republican leadership moved heaven and earth to exempt the fortunes of billionaires and multimillionaires from taxation. Today, they are set to prevent a debate on a minimum wage increase amendment."

That amendment would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 from $5.15 an hour over the course of two years. Since some Republican members of Congress are worried about reelection this fall, the Republican leadership is under pressure to allow a vote on the issue.

But it hasn't – yet. That allows Ms. Slaughter to blame "a handful of hand-picked power brokers in the smoky backrooms of the majority leader's office." (Her words may evoke a colorful historic image, but in fact there's a smoking ban in congressional offices today.)


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