AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) - President Obama pushed to raise the minimum wage this week.
On Tuesday, during his State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to pass legislation that will raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 per hour. And pay equality continues to be a struggle for American workers, only 19 states and Washington, DC have minimum wages higher than the federal rate.
"It's not every easy whatsoever; gas alone is just killing me. Other than that, food prices keep going up, if minimum wage did go up it would help," said 26-year-old contractor Brandon Mastorakis; who makes minimum wage.
It's estimated that one in three American families live paycheck to paycheck. Obama says a wage bump will stimulate job growth. But taxpayers are skeptical Congress will make a move.
"I have no idea what it's going to take to push them to do the right thing. They are not going to do the right thing on gun control; they are not going to do the right on minimum wage. They are not going to do the right thing on taxation. The whole thing is the snake biting its tail," said Hinda Schuman in Northampton on Thursday.
UMass Professor Bob Pollin is one of the authors behind "A Measure of Fairness." He says wage disparities have grown in recent decades and that the adjusted minimum wage was actually higher 45 years ago.
"The minimum wage in 1968, when we correct for inflation, was close to $11 an hour, and what's expected of the worker has doubled since then" stressed Pollin inside his North Pleasant Street office.
Pollin says raising the minimum wage will increase productivity and reduce turnover. But some business groups fear the move could freeze hiring. Pollin says the impact would be minimal. "On the overall costs of businesses is going to be in the range of less than one percent," said Pollin.
All the more reason researchers say it boils down to basic human rights. "You're talking about families who can meet [some] basic needs, put food on the table, pay for electricity and pay for child care. And that's it. They have no savings," said UMass researcher Jeannette Wicks-Lim.
In Massachusetts, the minimum wage is $8.00. The Political Economic Research Institute at UMass estimates such raise would affect more than 160,000 workers. The last wage increase was passed in 2007, under President George W. Bush's administration.