In Dallas on June 21 I had the privilege of speaking to our nation’s mayors at their annual national gathering. Mayors have an awesome responsibility. As a longtime resident of the Boston area, I remember the wise words of the late Tip O’Neill, our Congressman from Massachusetts and the longtime Speaker of the House, who used to say: “All politics is local.” Mayors deal with the daily problems facing people, balance competing interests, and make the difficult decisions that directly affect the lives of residents of our nation’s cities and towns, including working men and women.
My message to them was this: President Obama, Secretary Perez and all of the people at the U.S. Department of Labor share their commitment to improving the well-being of the working families and businesses in their communities. We may all have different roles to play, but when it comes to taking care of America and its communities, we’re all in this together.
At the heart of the president’s opportunity agenda is the belief that hardworking Americans should have a fair shot at success in order to create a better life for themselves and their families. Making sure that work pays is a fundamental path to realizing that principle, and that’s why the president has proposed that we increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.
President Obama, however, is not waiting for Congress to act. Under the direction of the president’s February executive order, Secretary Perez earlier this month set in motion the rulemaking process to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for employees working for companies with federal contracts. Ultimately, this will benefit approximately 200,000 private-sector workers nationwide, giving them the much-deserved chance to lead a better life.
What’s more, acting under the president’s direction, the department has begun the process of addressing overtime pay protections to help make sure millions of workers are paid a fair wage, and that rules are simplified for employers and workers alike. The overtime rules that establish the 40-hour workweek, a linchpin of the middle class, have eroded over the years. By updating who qualifies for overtime pay, we are expanding opportunity and rewarding hard work.
These steps are significant but still not enough. That’s why Congress needs to step up and raise the national minimum wage for all workers. Since the national minimum wage was last increased five years ago, the costs for food, shelter, transportation, utilities and child care have all gone up. An increase in the national minimum wage would give 28 million Americans a little bit of breathing room and peace of mind, and would lift 2 million out of poverty.
The good news is that even while Congress fails to act, we’re seeing a surge of momentum on this issue as states, cities and forward-thinking businesses are raising wages. They’re not just responding to overwhelming public support for higher wages; they know – and as a labor economist I can attest to this – that increasing the minimum wage is good for the bottom line and invigorates an economy driven by consumer spending. When low-wage workers earn more, they stay on the job longer, which benefits businesses with increased productivity and reduced training costs. And when these workers have more money in their pockets, they spend it.
Our nation’s mayors know that our cities and communities won’t be vibrant and healthy places to live unless we as a people ensure that a hard day’s work is rewarded with fair pay. They’re demonstrating what President Obama has said so many times, that change doesn’t always come from Washington, sometimes it comes to Washington.
Our nation’s lawmakers should follow the lead from mayors across the country, and raise the national minimum wage so that no one is left behind.
David Weil is the administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.