The Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 10, 2014
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about working families, and I will be talking about the minimum wage.

I just want to preface that it was an honor to listen to Congressman Rangel really talk about what is probably the most important issue before us in terms of how we as a deliberative body deal with issues of war and peace and where our Nation is going. I, too, hope that we have, as this goes on, a really thoughtful discussion as you have laid out for us tonight. And I hope that we follow up with what the President says later on tonight and that, when we reconvene, we do talk about this in a very, very thoughtful, thoughtful way.

But I am also concerned about how working families and individuals are struggling to make a living on our current minimum wage of $7.25. That is why I think Congressman Pocan and my colleagues and I are discussing this issue. It is a key component of raising this minimum wage, of closing the opportunity gap and building an economy that works for our working families.

We spend a lot of time in this body talking about building the economy. We spend time discussing tax breaks for large corporations. But really what we should be about is: How do we rebuild the middle class? How do we give people an opportunity to join the middle class? Raising the minimum wage is a critical component.

By raising it from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, we would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty. Do we raise it into wealth? No. We just take the first step. And this is a minimum step. It would raise it for 28 million people, including more than--in my home State, 2.7 million Californians live below the poverty level, working Californians, we are talking about, live below.

Who are they? Seventy percent of them are women. The average age is not as it is often told to us, young people, 18 to 25. We are talking about the average age of a person on minimum wage is 35 years of age. That is a significant year.

I think I meant to say 1.3 million Californians in my State. It is going to raise it for 2.7 million, and of those, almost a million and a half are women who would be impacted by an increase.

This is a bill we are talking about that is a bill that was put forth by Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman George Miller, and it is going to go have a tremendous impact upon job growth. Sometimes we hear, well, if you raise the minimum wage, we are going to lose jobs. But if we really get through the scare tactics, we will listen to what people who are experts and who have studied the issue have said, that a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute has calculated that a higher minimum wage within 3 years creates 85,000 new jobs and it has a boost of almost $22 billion into the economy.

So, when we raise the minimum wage, we are talking about protecting families, protecting individuals. We as a Congress have, I think, a responsibility to support those families who are the foundation of our workforce. And now is not time to turn our backs on the people who are raising the next generation. We are talking about working families. We need to help the men, women, and children who provide the foundation for our economy and our country, who are raising the next generation.

If we cannot provide an adequate wage for Americans who are living in poverty and working, why are we here? What is our role? Our role, I think, is to listen to those working Americans who are desperately trying to make ends meet, who work two and three jobs, and say: We hear you; it makes economic sense for the Nation; we will support you. And we should not leave this Congress until we take the first step, and that is to raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour.

It is a minimum raise of the minimum wage.

So with that, I thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak.


All we are asking for is a right to vote.

I still remember when the President came, in his State of the Union speech, and it was really just after--in my first year here in the Congress and he was talking about the horrible episode that happened at Sandy Hook and said, ``Give the people the vote. Just give us a vote.''

That is all we are asking our Republican colleagues. Let us vote on raising the minimum wage. That is all. That is the democratic way and ``democratic'' with a small D. That is the American way. Give the people a vote.