Workplace

Ahead of rallies, President Obama pushes for a minimum wage increase

Updated: 2013-12-05T06:04:00Z

By DIANE STAFFORD

The Kansas City Star

Pope Francis last month denounced trickle-down economic theories as contributing to economic inequality.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama put narrowing the wage gap and raising the minimum wage high on his remaining agenda.

And today, advocates for higher fast-food wages plan walkouts and rallies in cities nationwide, including Kansas City.

There’s rising wind in the sails of those who believe it’s time to raise wages for the lowest-paid American workers.

In Kansas City, among an estimated 100 cities, wage protests are scheduled as part of an ongoing national campaign to pay fast-food workers $15 an hour. Backed by organized labor, the movement also is trying to rally workers to organize and use collective bargaining to improve their pay.

Obama addressed the problem of dead-end, poverty-level wages that are “a fundamental threat to the American dream.” He spoke at a nonprofit community center in Washington, where he decried the loss of income mobility — an increasing inability to move up the income ladder.

The president reiterated his earlier call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour.

The wage floor is $7.35 in Missouri, which is among some states that have laws setting higher bases or incorporating inflation adjustments to the minimum. Kansas is among states that adhere to the federal minimum.

Labor advocates in the Kansas City area say the median wage among the area’s 26,000 fast-food workers is $8.60 an hour — or about $9.50 an hour less than what some economists calculate is necessary for a full-time worker to be able to cover basic living expenses.

Opponents to a higher minimum wage say workers are paid what the market says they’re worth and raising the minimum would cause some employees to lose their jobs so employers could afford to pay remaining workers more.

Opponents also say such entry-level jobs should serve as stepping stones to better employment and most workers aren’t trying to support families on that income.

Advocates for a higher minimum wage say workers who earn the minimum are forced to turn to public assistance, which costs taxpayers about $7 billion a year. They say a majority of such low-wage workers are adults with household expenses and they’re not necessarily able to leave those jobs and get something better.

The last legislated increases in the federal minimum wage, in 2007 and 2008, raised it by steps from $5.15 in 2006 to $7.25 in 2009. That produced the highest purchasing power for the minimum wage since 1981 — but that was still less than its value in 1967.

Today is the third large-scale wage rally planned in Kansas City this year. Led by the Workers Organizing Committee, which was formed in May, the events are supported by a coalition of labor and community groups.

Protest groups are scheduled to fan out this morning to various fast-food restaurants after an early morning rally at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 3800 Troost Ave.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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