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Minimum wage raise toll estimated

| Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Labor-backed and business-backed groups are gearing up for an election-year battle over raising the minimum wage.

Low-wage workers in more than 30 cities, including Pittsburgh, will rally on Tuesday in support of raising the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $9.80 an hour by 2014.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto will propose raising the minimum wage in Pittsburgh after a march from Market Square to council chambers.

In Greensburg, activists will meet at the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Tuesday marks the anniversary of the last federal minimum wage hike in 2009.

For workers like Arthur Rawls, 51, of the North Side, an increase in the minimum wage would enable him "to not rob Peter to pay Paul for the gas bill, the phone bill, the electric bill."

A Navy veteran who also served in the Naval Reserves, Rawls went back to school twice for retraining but has not been able to climb above the minimum wage.

"Bus prices went up more than my raises," he said.

Opponents say the increase will cost jobs in a fragile economy.

"It's a horrible idea. Teenage unemployment is around 25 percent," said James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research institute in Washington. "Entry-level jobs are incredibly difficult to get."

A new study by the Employment Policies Institute said hiking the minimum wage could eliminate more than 760,000 jobs for less-skilled and less-experienced workers.

Jake Haulk, a former Mellon Bank economist and president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Castle Shannon, said the minimum wage is bad policy.

"They're fighting reality," said Haulk. "If you force a minimum wage (increase), you're just going to cost people their jobs."

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank that works to broaden discussions about economic policy to include low- and middle-income workers, asked the president and leaders of congress for a three-step raise of 85 cents a year for three years in the minimum wage and then indexing against inflation.

That would increase the wages of about 20 million minimum-wage workers from $15,000 to about $20,000 by 2014, the group said.

Legislation that would use the three-step plan has been introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

Some small business owners believe the raise is overdue.

Today's minimum-wage workers have far less buying power than their counterparts in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its highest value of $10.55 adjusted for inflation, according to Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a national network of business owners and executives.

The wage hikes being pushed will put about $5,600 more dollars a year in the pockets of people who really need it, said Kyndall Mason, spokesperson for One Pittsburgh, a coalition of community, faith and labor groups.

The issue is starting "to gain traction" as voters compare the two presidential candidates, she said.

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