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Can Obama Unilaterally Raise the Minimum Wage?

The National Journal

Progressives are starting to worry that President Obama may be more talk than walk when it comes to raising the minimum wage. Again, on Wednesday, the president said, "It's well past the time to raise a minimum wage that, in real terms right now, is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office."

Well, progressives say, there's a whole group of low-wage workers that he can fix this for, just with the stroke of a pen. The chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, wrote a letter that urges the president to circumvent Congress and sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers employed through federal government contracts with private companies. This letter comes months after 49 members of the CPC requested the same thing from the president, only to hear radio silence about it from the White House.

"It's frustrating," says Ellison, who hand-delivered the letter to the president after his speech Wednesday. "We know his heart is in the right place and he wants to do something, and this is something he can do." [...]

In this case, when you take all of the people this could affect—from folks who sew military uniforms to the men and women cleaning up after tourists at the Smithsonian or Union Station, to workers at the National Zoo—it adds up.

According to a report from the progressive think tank Demos, there were nearly 2 million private sector workers funded by public dollars (from direct federal contracts as well as federal health care spending, loans through the Small Business Administration, infrastructure grants, and janitors cleaning federal buildings leased from private companies) making less than $12 an hour in 2012.

That's more than the number of people working at Walmart and McDonalds combined.

Read the report: Underwriting Bad Jobs: How Our Tax Dollars Are Funding Low-Wage Work and Fueling Inequality