July, 2013 Letter to President Obama on the Minimum Wage

July 9, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

Ever since your ringing announcement that you favor lifting the federal minimum wage from its frozen $7.25 per hour to $9.00 in your State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, there has been little effort from the White House to push for this important measure. To be sure, going down to $9.00 compares unfavorably with your 2008 campaign platform which favored $9.50 by 2011. Yet, with thirty million workers in our country making less today than workers made in 1968, inflation adjusted, it is a shameful situation. The 1968 inflation adjusted minimum wage would now be $10.70. Is catching up to 1968 too ambitious a White House position?

You can make a $10.50 federal minimum wage, expressed by Rep. Alan Grayson’s bill H.R. 1346, a front-burner national issue by Labor Day 2013, and the centerpiece of your Labor Day Message to the country.

First, prominently encourage members of Congress to host a town meeting during their August 2013 recess exclusively focused on lifting the minimum wage. See www.timeforaraise.org.

Second, you can visit the AFL-CIO headquarters to highlight before the national media the urgency of increasing the minimum wage to help thirty million workers and their families afford the necessities of life. For far less reason and result you walked to the nearby U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters and paid homage to the business barons in February 2011.

Third, you can find room in your barnstorming for business to reach out to some of those 30 million workers, who clean up after us, harvest and serve us our food, help our ailing grandparents, take care of many other services, and much more. Excluded by the media, these striving and hard-pressed Americans need support from your bully pulpit.

According to a recently released report from Demos, the federal government indirectly employs the largest number of low-wage workers in the country. More even than Walmart and McDonald’s combined. The Washington Post reported that a study from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) surveyed a sample of 567 federally contracted jobs. Seventy-four percent earned less than $10 per hour, 58 percent have no employment benefits, and 20 percent or more depend upon some form of public assistance.

In the absence of any serious movement in Congress to increase the minimum wage, you have the potential to exert significant influence on the wages paid to millions of low-wage workers in this country. With a simple executive order, you can fix this shameful deprivation. I urge you to sign an executive order which mandates that federal contractors be paid no less than $10.70 per hour, which would catch those workers back up with the inflation adjusted minimum wage they would have been paid in 1968. Is this too much to ask of you?

As a former community organizer in the inner city and as a person who has risen to the highest office in the land, you should welcome these suggestions. You should have been championing this cause starting on your first day in the oval office. So give Gene Sperling the green light. Arouse the Democrats in Congress and give millions of Americans a reason for having voted to elect and re-elect you.

Since Rick Santorum and, until last year, Mitt Romney favored an inflation-adjusted minimum wage and since the U.S. has, by far, the lowest minimum wage of the major industrial nations, how can your lack of action, after those oratorical echoes of your speech before the Congress, continue to mark your second term of office?

Hundreds of union locals, anti-poverty, and nonprofit associations around the country would welcome your efforts to support the federal minimum wage catching up with 1968, inflation adjusted for thirty million workers.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader

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