About 3.8 million people, or 3 percent of the overall workforce, earn at or below the minimum wage (waiters and those in other professions who earn tips or commissions are sometimes paid less than the minimum wage), which is down from almost 8 percent of the workforce in 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But unlike those other options, a higher minimum wage has undeniable political appeal for the White House. First of all, it is broadly popular. A recent poll from USA Today and the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of Americans support Obama’s proposal. So even though Republicans in Congress will almost certainly kill any minimum wage bill, it gives Obama an opportunity to point out his differences with the GOP.
Just as significantly, the higher minimum wage would not cost the government anything. Unlike the EITC or infrastructure investment, mandating a higher minimum wage is revenue neutral. In today’s deficit-obsessed capital, that may be the root of its appeal.