Interesting math: Tom Cotton's minimum wage increase would be less than his own state's

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The Arkansas Republican wants to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10. His own state's is already $11.

A Republican senator's bill to gradually raise the minimum wage could bring it to $10 an hour by 2025. Meanwhile, his own state's hourly minimum wage is already $11.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas unveiled the "Higher Wages for American Workers Act" on Tuesday with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

The bill includes a stepped increase in the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009. The federal minimum wage would go up a bit each year for four years, but the process would not begin until the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Starting in year six, it would index the minimum to the federal inflation rate.

This proposal comes as President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are pushing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years — possibly as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.

Republicans claim this would actually hurt workers. Just three House Republicans joined 228 House Democrats in July 2019 in passing that proposal; it was one of hundreds of pieces of legislation killed without a vote by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But polling shows widespread support for the $15 level.

A Hill-HarrisX poll taken in late January found 64% of registered voters support raising the minimum to $15 by 2025.

While $10 would be an improvement for workers in Romney's Utah and many other states, it would keep them at a lower wage than those in Cotton's home state. Under state law, the Arkansas minimum wage rose from $10 last year to $11 on Jan. 1.

The federal minimum wage law does not preclude states or localities from having a higher wage floor.

In addition to raising the federal minimum wage to less than what workers make in Arkansas, the Cotton-Romney proposal would punish immigrant workers. The increase would be tied to rules preventing businesses from hiring undocumented people, with no path to citizenship or legalization of their status.

"American workers today compete against millions of illegal immigrants for too few jobs with wages that are too low—that's unfair," Cotton said in a press release. "Ending the black market for illegal labor will open up jobs for Americans. Raising the minimum wage will allow Americans filling those jobs to better support their families. Our bill does both."

Economists disagree on whether immigration leads to suppressed wages.

But a person working 40 hours a week at Cotton's $10-an-hour minimum would earn $20,800 a year — below the federal poverty line for a family of three.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.