Merkley, Wyden push for national minimum wage increase

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A national minimum wage of $10.10 an hour could be a reality if Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley get their way.

The two have teamed up to get Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act.

"In our economy the consumer drives about 70 percent of the economic activity and what you're going to be doing is putting more dollars in the pockets of these workers and they're going to spend them locally," said Wyden.

The act would increase the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and also provide automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living.

"$10.10 is about restoring the purchasing power of the past. It doesn't quite get to the purchasing power of 1968, but it comes close," said Merkley.

On Friday, the two senators visited the newly opened Green Zebra Grocery in North Portland to push their initiative. The grocery store raised its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in support of the Fair Minimum Wage Act.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.

"These are folks who are walking on an economic tightrope," said Wyden.

Oregon's minimum wage is at $9.10. Washington is at $9.32, making it the highest in the country.

Both senators agree that the increase would have a positive effect on the economy.

"We're reducing the poverty rate, we're reducing the cost to the government of some of the things that have to supplement $7.00, like the amount of food stamps paid out," said Merkley. "Consumers will be able to buy more products when they have more income, so really it will be a win-win."

They deny the claim that the increase would lead to a significant increase in the cost of products.

"Economists have analyzed this," said Merkley. "It takes just very few cents to have an impact and produce that higher wage."

That wage increase could make a big difference across the country, the senators say raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce the number of people living in poverty by 4.6 million.