In the spirit of Labor Day weekend, President Obama in his weekly address seized on the chance to echo one of his most familiar refrains: "America deserves a raise."
The country can't and shouldn't wait for Republicans in Congress to come around to raising the minimum wage, the president said in his remarks published Saturday, urging states and players in the private sector to up hourly pay for the working class. And since his first plea with federal lawmakers early last year to boost wages, he lauded, "Americans of all walks of life are doing just that."
"Thirteen states and D.C. have done their part by raising their minimum wages," the president said. "Four more states have minimum wage initiatives on the ballot this November. And the states where the minimum wage has gone up this year have experienced higher job growth than the states that haven't."
Mr. Obama offered shout-outs for raising wages to mayors like his longtime friend Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and businesses he's previously patronized, such as The Gap. The president of Kentucky State University, he added, "set a great example by giving himself a $90,000 pay cut, so that he could give raises to his lowest-paid employees."
For his part, Mr. Obama noted he's already signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees at least "ten-ten" an hour.
U.S. employers continued to hire at a healthy clip this summer, but subdued wage growth suggests the economy is not positioned to shift into higher gear. Still, the president celebrated a report out in July that showed the sixth straight month boasting at least 200,000 new jobs - the first time it's happened since 1997.
"There are reasons to be optimistic about where we're headed, and the decisions we make now will determine whether or not we accelerate the progress," he said. And the way to grow the American middle class, he went on, is "not by making sure a fortunate few at the top are doing well, but by making sure that everyone who's willing to work hard and play by the rules can get ahead."
But Congress has already proffered some solutions that have sat stagnant on Capitol Hill for months, argued Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., in the weekly GOP address. Listing proposals to jumpstart small business investments and cut out the red tape that often restrains employers, he said "all told, we have more than 40 good jobs bills awaiting action in the Democratic-run United States Senate."
"We're seeing some jobs come back," Bucshon said, nodding to last month's report, "but too many of our fellow Americans are stuck in part-time work or have stopped looking altogether. And between wages staying flat - and costs on everything from food to health care going up - families are being squeezed at every turn."
With Labor Day as an appropriate pivot point, he said, three things will guide Congress' discussion in the weeks ahead: "getting people back to work, lowering costs at home and restoring opportunity."