minimum wage raiseA group of leading economists, including seven Nobel laureates, have joined the effort to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act – introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-California, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa – would increase the minimum wage in a series of steps over three years. The current minimum wage is $7.25.

The group of 76 economists, among them Nobel winners Joseph Stiglitz and Peter Diamond, issued a statement saying that working families and women would be the biggest beneficiaries of the increase.

Women, the group said in a press release, “work at least 20 hours a week and depend on these earnings to make ends meet.”

There are about 1.6 million Americans holding jobs that pay them the minimum wage.  The increase would mean that the current $15,000 a year earned by minimum wage workers would increase to $21,000, putting a family of three above the poverty line, according to a Fox News report.

That might be just the tip of the iceberg, however. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal think tank, estimates that another 27.8 million Americans would actually be impacted by a minimum wage increase.

According to the EPI, raising the rate to $10.10 by 2016 would raise the minimum wage to roughly the same amount, when adjusted for inflation, as it was in the late 1960s. The EPI also reported that the average age of the workers affected would be 35, with about 34% over the age of 40.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the minimum wage was first enacted in 1938, setting the rate at .25 per hour. Since 1978, when the rate was $2.65 an hour, the minimum wage has been raised 10 times and not at all in the decade between 1997 and 2007, when the rate remained $5.15.

Under President Barack Obama, the rate has been raised three times, increasing to $5.85 in July 2007, $6.55 in July 2008 and $7.25 in July 2009.

The Miller-Harkin proposal would also raise the rate paid to tipped employees. That rate is currently $2.13 an hour. Under the proposal, that rate would increase annually until it reached 70% of minimum wage.

The economists argue that those making more money will spend more money, meaning the minimum wage increase will directly help the nation’s economy. Critics maintain that employers will hire fewer people or cut hours if they are made to pay a higher minimum wage.

Miller has announced he will retire at the end of the current term, which is up next year. The 68-year-old said he looks forward “to one last year in Congress fighting the good fight.”

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