Labor Secretary calls for raise in the minimum wage

WASHINGTON – Saying the nation’s families have changed but the nation’s work-family policies haven’t, Obama administration Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is arguing for revisions in federal laws to make them more family-friendly.

And raising the minimum wage tops that list, he adds.

Perez promises to take that message on the road after a 1-day White House Summit on Working Families, scheduled for June 23.

“We live in a Modern Family society, but we’re still living by Leave It To Beaver rules,” Perez said on June 9 – referring to a current TV show and a popular show of the 1950s-during one of many pre-summit events the White House has sponsored nationwide.

“We need to do more to give people the tools to be responsible employees and good parents, so they don’t have to choose between the families they love and the jobs they need. We need to make sure people are able to put food on the table, but also to be at that table to eat dinner,” he said.

Federal worker policies were constructed on the assumption of a 1-earner family, with the earner usually the father, with a stay-at-home mother taking care of the kids. That family is a small share of the U.S. now, statistics show.

Instead, women are just under half the workforce, and most women work – including most women with school-age children. And single parents head a large share of families. Perez said policies must change to reflect that demographic shift. He emphasized four proposals, but went into detail about only one of them, raising the minimum wage.

The Obama administration, unions and congressional Democrats are all campaigning to raise the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, to $10.10 an hour by 2016, then index it to inflation. “No one who works full time in America should have to raise their family in poverty,” Perez said.

“But so many people can’t be there for their kids because they have to work two or three jobs. So many of them have to resort to food stamps and other forms of public assistance just to survive. The purchasing power of the minimum wage is 20 percent less than it was in the 1980s. It’s time to give America a raise. Our workers need it.”

Families would also be aided, Perez said, if laws changed to help them pay for child care, to increase worker time flexibility in lower-paying occupations such as retail and fast food, and to increase the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. Perez said his department is working on rules to achieve that overtime pay goal. 

Photo: Thomas Perez/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.