Minimum Wage Hike Kicks In

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The federal minimum wage increases by 70 cents today. Farai Chideya talks with Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI), chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, which supports the increase.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Ten years ago, President Clinton signed a bill into law upping the federal minimum wage to $5.15 an hour. And that's where it stayed until today. The federal minimum wage officially goes up today by 70 cents, and it will increase annually for three years until 2009. Then it will hit $7.25 an hour.

In a moment, we'll hear from a woman directly affected by this new measure. But first, we've got Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan. She's also chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Congresswoman, great to have you on.

Representative CAROLYN CHEEKS KILPATRICK (Democrat, Michigan): Good to be with you. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm great.

Rep. KILPATRICK: Good.

CHIDEYA: So tell us what this legislation means.

Rep. KILPATRICK: You know, first of all, it's what it could have been. When Democrats controlled the House and the Senate and the presidency, we passed on two different occasion, a clean bill and the president would not sign a bill that would take it to 7.25 today. This is a phase-in, as you mentioned, and this is what we could get to vote for, and we're happy to have gotten this. Twenty states will be effect and some 13 million Americans will see, as of today July 24th, of a minimum wage increase, as you said, over three years to $7.25.

We hope that when we get a new president we can come back and revisit this and make it even better. If the minimum wage had gone up like the cost of living over the last 10 years, our minimum wage will be over $11 today. So we're still behind but it's the best we can get, and we're happy for the 13 million Americans who will benefit, and many of those are women with children, raising families.

CHIDEYA: Does earning a minimum wage salary puts you at the poverty line, above or below if you're a head of household?

Rep. KILPATRICK: And it just depends on whether you're a head of household with children, are - you're still at poverty line? In some instance, are below depending on where you live in the country - cost of living vary in various parts of the country. So it just depends. What we're saying, as we raise this, it's not enough. We've got to go back. We've got to make families and women particularly - 33 percent of those on the minimum wage are raising children at this level. So it is not adequate.

It is a first step and I'm proud to say that the Democratic House here in Congress and the Democratic Senate were able - after putting the bill in a supplemental, I might add - we try to get it to him straight across, he would not sign it, but he did sign it because we put it as a part of a supplemental bill to his war funding. The minimum wage was in there and the only way he get his war funding is that he would sign the package with the minimum wage in it. Is it adequate? No. Does it begin to help? Yes.

CHIDEYA: What do you hope will happen in the future? You mentioned this was not quite the bill that you wanted. It's incremental and it goes until 2009 in terms of increases. What do you hope to happen in the future as the Democrats do control Congress?

Rep. KILPATRICK: We hope that we'll have a more progressive House and Senate in '08. We all run for reelection in the House and a third of the Senate. So we'll have a new House and hopefully Democrats will continue to control the House and have a stronger Senate, whereby we can have a Democratic president who will sign an adequate minimum wage for millions of families in America.

So we're going to continue to work on it. It will be one of the first bills draft in the new session, and we'll continue to work. This is the best that we can get under this administration. And it is, again - not since President Clinton 10 years ago - had we had a raise in the minimum wage.

CHIDEYA: Congresswoman, thank you so much.

Rep. KILPATRICK: Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan is chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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