02-19-2017  8:52 am      •     

WASHINGTON (AP)  Fast-food waitress Fawn Townsend of Raleigh, N.C., knows exactly what she is going to do if her salary goes up with Tuesday's increase in the federal minimum wage: start saving for a car so she can find a second job to make ends meet.
"My goal personally is to get a vehicle so I can independently go back and forth to work and maybe pick up extra work so I can have that extra income, because minimum wage is not cutting it," said Townsend, who is 24 and single. "Being a single person, you can't pay all your bills with one minimum wage job."
Many lawmakers, along with advocates for low-wage workers, are celebrating the first increase in the federal minimum wage in a decade. Yet many acknowledge that raising it from $5.15 an hour to $5.85 will provide only meager help for some of the lowest paid workers.
About 1.7 million people made $5.15 or less in 2006, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The reality for a minimum wage worker is that every penny makes a difference because low-wage workers make the choice between putting food on the table and paying for electricity or buying clothes for their children," said Beth Shulman, former vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
"Saying that, it's clear going up to $5.85 is not enough to really make sure that people really can afford the things that all families need," said Shulman, author of "The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans."
Minimum wage workers will get an additional 70-cent boost each summer for the next two years, ending in 2009 at $7.25 an hour. That comes to just above $15,000 yearly before taxes for a 52-week work year.
Now, someone in such a job and earning $5.85 an hour would bring home $12,168 a year before taxes. The federal poverty level for singles is $10,210, couples is $13,690 and $17,170 for families of three.
"In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is an outrage that anyone who works full time would still wind up in poverty," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "Everyone who puts in an honest day's work should receive a fair day's pay."
Poverty and the minimum wage are becoming a major issue in the Democratic presidential race. John Edwards and Barack Obama are emphasizing raising the minimum wage during their tours of impoverished areas.
Edwards, who said he wants to eliminate poverty within a generation, favors raising the minimum wage to $9.50. Obama is advocating a "living wage" that would go up as inflation rises and he has promised to eliminate the phrase "working poor."
More than two dozen states and the District of Columbia already have minimum wages higher than the federal one. Even in those states, an increase in the federal minimum wage probably will have a ripple effect, increasing the salaries of Townsend and others.
North Carolina raised its minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 in January.
"It's a long overdue first step," said Cindia Cameron, the national organizing director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women. Minimum wage workers typically are young, single and female and are often Black or Hispanic.
Even then when the full increase is enacted, minimum wage workers will be just scraping by. "It's not enough money to meet your basic needs, I'm talking about your rent, your gas, and gas to get back and forth to work," said Sonya Murphy, head organizer of the Mississippi Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
But at the same time, employers who pay many of these low-wage workers say increasing the minimum wage only means they have to raise the prices of the products, cut back on employees' hours or let some workers go.
"When you go into the grocery story now, you may be checking your own groceries, you may be bagging your own groceries," said Jill Jenkins, chief economist for the Employment Policies Institute. "All of these things are because of mandated wage hikes. When you have to pay more, employers begin to find other options to keep costs down."
According to the National Restaurant Association, the last minimum wage increase cost the restaurant industry more than 146,000 jobs and restaurant owners put off plans to hire an additional 106,000 employees.
At $7.25 an hour, the most likely response from restaurants will be "increases in menu prices, elimination of some positions and reduction of staff hours to try and offset some of the increased labor costs," said Brendan Flanagan, the association's vice president of federal relations.
Others say the effect on the economy will be negligible.
A PNC Economic Outlook survey done in April showed three out of four small- and middle-market business owners said raising the minimum wage would have little or no impact on their businesses. "In a tighter labor market, they already raised wages to be competitive," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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