Rep. Jackson Jr: Raising Minimum Wage to $20 Would ‘By Far Surpass’ What It Was Designed For

Elizabeth Harrington | June 6, 2012 | 5:49pm EDT
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( – Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) proposed raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour today but when asked why it should not be raised to $20 an hour Jackson did not answer directly, saying only that “even making the argument for $20 an hour would by far surpass” the goal the minimum wage was designed to reach.

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At a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, Jackson was joined by fellow Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, to introduce the “Catching Up to 1968 Act of 2012.”

The bill would raise the current minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour, and tie future increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the measure of the average change in prices for a market basket of consumer goods and services.  The minimum wage was established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and Jackson's bill would apply the 1968 rate adjusted for inflation in today's dollars.

At the press conference asked Congressman Jackson:  “Why not raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour, if $10 isn’t enough to live on, why not raise it to $20?”

Jackson said, “Let me explain why the immediate jump to $10. First, we’re just trying to catch up to 1968 -- even making the argument for $20 an hour would by far surpass what the 1968 expectation of the minimum wage was designed to accomplish.”

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) (AP Photo)

“We should be around $11 an hour, which is not an unreasonable request, but we’ll start at $10,” he said.  “There are other proposals in the Congress that I understand are potentially being introduced to raise it to $9.80 an hour.  That still does not keep up to 1968.”

“So, putting it in the context of the 1968 legislation, $10 an hour is not unreasonable,” Jackson said.  “And I believe that the jump to $10 per hour is reasonable, I believe it’s responsible, it will not cost jobs, it will create jobs. It will contribute to the livelihood as you heard from Robert [Weissman] of 30 million Americans who work hard every day and at the end of a hard day’s work they’re still poor. They still cannot afford bread, they cannot pay their rent, they cannot make their car note, they cannot put their children through school.”

“And so paying the American people what they are worth for the work they are already doing is the priority of this legislation, and it ought to happen immediately,” he said.

Political activist Nader said he supports raising the minimum wage to force the “merciless oligarchy” of Wal-Mart and McDonalds to pay their workers more.

Ralph Nader (AP Photo)

“The stars are fairly aligned for this, empirically, from a moral and ethical, humanitarian point of view, from an economic point of view, from a political point of view,” Nader said.

“What is the missing ingredient is a unified drive by elected members of Congress to provide the requisite courage to challenge the merciless oligarchy, which include the big box stores like Wal-Mart and McDonalds and compel them to adjust their pay to what it would be in 1968, adjusted for inflation,” he said.  “The contrast is quite impressive there are a million workers at Wal-Mart who make under $10 an hour, the head of Wal-Mart makes over $11,000 an hour on an 8-hour day, not counting benefits.”

In a press release about raising the minimum wage, Nader also said, “We live in a land of the absurd: the richest 1 percent controls as much financial wealth as the bottom combined 95 percent.”

Weissman, who is president of Public Citizen, which was founded by Nader, also criticized Wal-Mart, which employs more than 2 million people.  Weissman said he supported raising the minimum wage to $10 because it “will be a small but important step to address the staggering inequality” in the economy.

“Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz has a new book out on inequality and he highlights that the heirs to the Walton fortune, the Wal-Mart family, the Walton family, themselves control as much wealth as the bottom 30 million Americans, the handful of people in this family control as much wealth as 30 million Americans,” said Weissman.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. (AP Photo)

“We’ve got to deal with the problem of too much concentrated wealth at the top side, but we also have to deal with the problem of too little wealth and too little income among the poorest Americans, among lower income Americans, among Americans who are working everyday and not able to raise a family, able to earn enough money to get by,” Weissman said.

After the conference, asked Weissman to elaborate on his comments.

“We have wealth in this country at staggering levels concentrated among a very small number of individuals and the discrepancy between so few having so much and so many having so little is a real problem in a lot of ways,” he said.

“It’s a problem for the economy, the economy doesn’t function unless the wealth is spread around a little bit better,” he said.

“It’s a problem for the functioning of our democracy,” Weissman added. “One reason we’re seeing so much money pour into national elections is that people with a billion dollars can pretty easily throw around a few million here and there.”

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