U.S. Labor secretary talks to Philly minimum-wage workers about a raise

The debate over increasing the national minimum wage came to Philadelphia as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet listened to low-wage workers steeped in bills.

Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris Thursday heard the pleas of minimum-wage workers, who say they need a raise just to pay their bills.

Cheryl Henderson says she needs more money to move out on her own.

“For almost three years, I have made $7.25 an hour, never had a pay increase,” Henderson said. “So making $9 would be beneficial. Right now, I am living with my family because I cannot afford to go out on my own.”

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Tracy Mulvehill says it’s “degrading” for an older person to work in a minimum-wage job especially when it’s impossible to make ends meet.

“What utility am I going to sacrifice this month? Next month, I am going to ignore the PECO bill to pay this bill, and it goes into rotation month after month,” Mulvehill said, describing the way she juggles the bills she cannot afford to pay.

Harris says it’s time those making the minimum got a raise.

“It’s an outrage in America, the richest country on Earth, that people are still living in poverty when they are working full time,” he said.

For a full-time worker, raising the minimum wage to $9 would add up to a $3,500 annual pay hike.

 Harris says those at the top have received increases, now it’s time for those at the bottom of the scale.

“The top 1 percent in America has done just fine, they have had tremendous pay increases over the last 10 years,” Harris said. “It’s time for low-wage workers to get an increase so that they can afford to support their kids, pay their utility bills, maybe get themselves some education so they can climb up the ladder reach the middle class and live the American Dream.”

Obama proposed the hourly wage hike in his State of the Union address.

In New Jersey, the state Legislature Thursday approved allowing voters to decide whether to raise the minimum wage to $8.25. A constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November that would also provide increases to New Jersey’s minimum wage tied to the consumer price index.

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