As great a triumph as was the passage of a minimum wage hike in Los Angeles—one that will raise the floor to $15 an hour by 2020 and index it to inflation going forward—reading about it brought to mind the aforementioned quotation. The city-by-city, state-by-state struggle to raise the minimum wage has undoubtedly been heroic. Los Angeles—because of the sheer size of its population—is its most impressive and important achievement to date, although certainly not its only one. But why, indeed, has that struggle been necessary?
It has been necessary, first and foremost, because national Democrats failed low-wage workers on the issue in 2009 and 2010. Yes, this country increased the federal minimum wage in 2007, when a Congress with Democratic majorities passed the first such increase in 10 years. And the raise was—from a percentage standpoint—impressive, going up 40 percent, from $5.15 to $7.25, over 26 months. With a Republican president, that may have been as much as was possible at that time. Maybe.
But then Barack Obama became president of the United States, and Democrats increased their majorities in the House and Senate to the point that, once Al Franken's recount finally came to an end and he took his seat, the Senate Democratic caucus counted 60 members—enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. Franken took his seat, in fact, less than a month before the third and final wage increase mandated in 2007 took effect. Why, we can ask, did the Democratic Party—the party of working people—fail to take further action?
Please follow me beyond the fold for more on this question.