Seeking to give new momentum to his proposal to raise the national minimum wage, President Obama said Wednesday that hiking the rate to $10.10 an hour will chiefly benefit women, who make up the majority of minimum-wage workers struggling in the economy.
Mr. Obama highlighted a report by his economic team saying that women are increasingly likely to graduate from college and enter high-paying professions, but tempered the enthusiasm by saying there is still work to be done.
"What we also know is women are still making 77 cents on the dollar, including when they enter into these high-paying professions, they're making less money," he said. "We know that women continue to be disproportionately represented in low-wage professions, which means that something like an increase in the federal minimum wage is going to have a disproportionate impact on them."
Increasing the rate from $7.25 an hour would shrink the wage gender gap by about 5 percent because women are more likely than men to be working for lower wages, said Betsey Stevenson, a member of Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.
"That gender wage gap is seen very persistently across the income distribution," she said. "We see it within occupations. We see it across occupations, and we even see it when women and men are working side by side doing identical work."
But the president's drive for a minimum wage increase to $10.10 was set back after a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report concluded that the hike would probably cost the economy 500,000 jobs by 2016.
Mr. Obama has also seen opposition to his proposal not only from Republicans who say it will cost the economy jobs, but from fellow Democrats who have said a bump to $10.10 an hour is too much, too fast. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, delayed a vote last month on a proposal sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, to raise the wage floor to $10.10 an hour.
Mr. Obama and senior White House advisers hosted members of the House and Senate at the White House Wednesday to discuss ways to expand economic opportunities for women. Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said the Senate will be addressing the wage gap "very soon."
On Capitol Hill, Labor Secretary Tom Perez told a Senate committee Wednesday that he's met many restaurant owners who also want to see the federal minimum wage of $2.13 an hour for workers who receive tips — 70 percent of whom are women — raised as well. The $2.13 figure has not been increased in two decades.
The White House also argued that women's wages provide a direct boost for working families. Women's earnings constituted about 45 percent of total family earnings in 2013, compared to 37 percent in the 1970s.
Last month, Mr. Obama went around Congress to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour and will direct Mr. Perez's Labor Department on Thursday to set new rules so that more workers qualify for overtime pay. The moves are part of what the White House has labeled a "Year of Action" to move where Congress does not.
Advocates have pointed to the section of the CBO report saying a wage increase to $10.10 phased in over the next three years would boost wages for most low-income workers who still have jobs and say the overall body of research on the subject indicates that minimum wage hikes have minimal adverse effects on employment levels. The increase would be indexed to inflation after July 1, 2016.
The CBO said a wage increase would cause some businesses to cut the number of jobs to contain labor costs, although most of the working poor would benefit and many would be lifted above the poverty line.
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