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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Spotlight

Majority of Americans Support Minimum Wage Increase

Hourly workers back an increase in minimum wage, but one economist fears it could worsen the unemployment rate.

A recent Gallup poll found seven in 10 Americans are in favor of raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, but a Walmart employee is concerned the higher wages will cause employers to cut hours. 
Walmart cashier Martha Sellers said she agrees that minimum wage should be increased, because any little bit helps, but she is concerned that it won't be enough. 
"They won’t give you the hours if they gave you the higher wage," Sellers said. "They just cut your hours, so your making more money, yes, which is great, but your not making the hours to make the money."
Sellers said she earns $13 an hour, which is an increase over the $7.54 an hour she was making when she started working for Walmart in 2003. But she said that as her pay has increased over the years her weekly hours have decreased. 
When asked if her current wages were enough to live comfortably, Sellers said, "If I got a full 40 hours for the week, then yes, but no, it wouldn’t put extra money to travel to go see my family. I can’t afford the gas to go back and forth to work much less go visit them.”
Sellers husband died of cirrhosis of the liver three years ago and since that time she said she has struggled to make the $700 a month she needs for rent. 
"I’ve gone through my savings. I’ve gone through all of it," she said. "Pay rent, put gas in the car. Tags are due, oh geez, go to the bank get it out of savings.”
In February, President Barack Obama declared to Congress that no one working full-time should live in poverty. Obama asked for minimum wage to be increased to $9 an hour by the end of 2015. 
Currently, federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and in California it's $8 an hour. If minimum wage is increased to $9 an hour, it would be the greatest jump ever passed by Congress. 
Economist and USC professor Ayse Imrohoroglu said the current high unemployment rate could be made worse by a wage increase. 
“You’re telling firms that they should pay people more than they’re willing to pay them," Imrohoroglu said. "So, since you can not really force them to employ people that is the margin they will change.”
Tara Riceberg, the owner of Tweak, a gift store in Los Angeles, said if a few extra dollars can take a person from unhappy to happy, then it's money well spent. 
Riceberg said she already pays her employees above minimum wage by offering a starting wage of $11 an hour. 
"There’s a certain standard that they (my employees) need to live their life," she said. "Quite honestly with my shop and my business, I want my employees to come here and be happy. And they need to feel satisfied and they need to feel valued.”
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