By Chris Hoenig
While hundreds of fast-food workers went on strike in an effort to raise the federal minimum wage, one of the men with the power to do so said there’s no need for a minimum wage anymore.
Congressman Joe Barton told National Journal that he would rather just get rid of it altogether. “I think it’s outlived its usefulness,” the Texas Republican said. “It may have been of some value back in the Great Depression. I would vote to repeal the minimum wage.” Barton doesn’t explain how he would help people earn a living wage, which is defined as the salary required to support yourself and your family, as the sole provider. Even in his home county, the living wage is well above the federal minimum of $7.25.
Roadblocks presented by opponents like Barton have led members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to call on President Obama to raise the minimum wage for some workers without Congressional authority. The executive order sought by Representatives Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, the chairmen of the caucus, would increase the minimum wage for private workers who are paid with public money through contracts with the federal government.
There are reportedly 2 million Americans—more than the workforces of Walmart and McDonald’s combined—who fit into that category and who are making under $12 an hour, such as Luis Chiliquinga, an employee at the McDonald’s inside the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. “It’s a shame to have to admit this, but I have to rely on charity and help from family members, including some of my kids who don’t earn much more than I do, but they help me pay for the basics, like rent and food,” said Chiliquinga, who makes $8.32 an hour. “That’s how I make it.”
Barton’s rejection of the federal minimum wage goes against public opinion—and his own party. Two recent polls found that more than 70 percent of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, including a majority of Republicans. A Gallup poll from early November, which found 76 percent of Americans in favor of the increase, included the support of 58 percent of Republicans. That’s an increase from a February Pew Research survey in which 71 percent of Americans spoke in favor of a $9-an-hour minimum wage, with 50 percent of Republicans in support (and 46 percent against).