Congress's chief budget scorekeeper is sticking by his recent report saying that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would probably reduce employment by 500,000 jobs, but conceded Wednesday the figure is "a central estimate in a wide range."
"The likely range, the range with a 2/3 probability, goes from a 'very slight' decrease to a decrease of about a million and the 500,000 loss is essentially in the middle of that range and that's consistent with a balanced reading of the literature," Doug Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, told the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). "It could be smaller job loss, it could be larger job loss."
Mr. Elmendorf's testimony comes as the White House and Senate Democrats — most notably Sen. Tom Harkin, who chairs the HELP committee — are pushing to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.
The Senate has already delayed a vote on the measure, but the issue figures to play a key role for the party in the 2014 midterm elections as Democrats try to counter Republican messaging on problems surrounding President Obama's health care overhaul. The GOP secured an early feather in its cap Tuesday with Republican David Jolly's victory over Democrat Alex Sink in a special House election in Florida.
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, who also testified Wednesday before Mr. Harkin's committee, said increasing the federal minimum wage, along with pushing items like immigration reform and infrastructure spending, is an important piece of a "quilt" the White House is advocating to boost the economy.
"The Congressional Budget Office indicates that 25 million people will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage," Mr. Perez said. "The Congressional Budget Office agrees that roughly 12 percent are teenagers who benefit from the minimum wage, so we can put to rest once and for all this myth that raising the minimum wage only helps teenagers. I hear that time and time again; it's wrong. The average age of a minimum wage worker is 35 years old."
Indeed, Mr. Elmendorf's report also says a hike in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would substantially boost income for most low-income workers, but that only about one-fifth of the estimated $31 billion in increased wages would go to families below the poverty level because many low-wage workers aren't members of low-wage families.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said that an across-the-board wage hike could have dire effects on states like his own, compared to states such as New York where workers typically make more money already.
"This is a determination that should be made by the states, it seems to me," he said.
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