President Barack Obama is signaling he’s going to be a major voice in the 2106 election even if he’s not on the ballot.
Obama made his case for an expansion of overtime pay Thursday in the home state of one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Scott Walker, delivering a campaign-style speech that lambasted the field of Republicans in general, and Walker in particular.
“One thing that the bus full of people who are fighting to lead the Republican ticket all share is they keep on coming up with the same-old trickle down, you’re on your own economics that helped bring about the crisis back in 2007-2008 in the first place,” Obama charged.
By taking his case first to Wisconsin, where Walker has made a national reputation fighting labor unions, Obama called attention to the fact that wages in Wisconsin, as well as nationally, have not fared well in the current economic recovery or over the last few decades.
Wisconsin lags behind the national average in wages.
Last year, Wisconsin’s average salary was $42,880; the national average was $47,230, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Also, the average hourly wage in Wisconsin was $20.65; the national average was $22.71.
Obama called it a result of giving tax breaks to the wealthy and expecting prosperity to trickle down. He criticized Walker for targeting unions and said the state could take a lesson from its neighboring state of Minnesota, which raised taxes on the wealthiest and passed an equal pay law.
“Now, according to the Republican theory, all of those steps would have been bad for the economy. But Minnesota’s unemployment rate is lower than Wisconsin, Minnesota’s median income is around $9,000 higher,” Obama said.
The White House estimates that 80,000 people in Wisconsin would benefit from the new overtime rule. Walker shot back.
The administration seems to be under the distorted impression that they can build the middle class by government mandate.
David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation
Walker, who greeted Obama as he landed at the airport and chatted with him, shot back at Obama’s proposed answer to stagnant wages in his state and nationwide.
“Rather than empty political rhetoric, Americans want solutions,” said Walker. “We should be looking at ways to raise wages by ensuring people have the skills and education they need to move ahead in their careers.”
Obama is pushing his proposed change to the nation’s overtime pay law, which would significantly increase the number of people who qualify for additional money after working more than 40 hours in a week.
Hourly workers are guaranteed overtime pay, but current federal rules limit overtime pay for salaried workers to those earning less than $23,660 per year for a 40-hour work week. The long-awaited proposal would more than double the threshold to $50,440 per year.
The Department of Labor will seek public comments on the change before determining what to include in a final rule next year.
5 million Number of workers who would be impacted by a change in overtime rules
Supporters say the change would shore up the middle class and help workers better balance work and family obligations. Critics say it would force employers to reduce overtime hours and the number of workers.
“Making more employees eligible for overtime by severely restricting the exemptions will not guarantee more income, but instead will negatively impact small businesses and drastically limit employment opportunities,” said Randy Johnson, U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits. “Many reclassified employees will lose benefits, flexibility, status and opportunities for advancement.”
Obama has pushed for a series of changes in recent years to boost middle America – increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to child care and family leave, equal pay for women and protecting retirement accounts – with limited success.
He signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour for employees involved in future government contracts. He failed to persuade Congress to boost the minimum wage for all Americans, but since 2013, when he first called for an increase, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed increases, impacting 7 million workers.
Wages, though, have remained stubbornly flat. They have actually declined in real terms since the 1970s.
The median working-age man with a job earns about 4 percent less, when adjusted for inflation, than he did in 1970, according to a 2012 report from the Hamilton Project, part of the center-left Brookings Institution. The numbers look a bit better for women, since women historically numbered fewer in the workforce and earned less. Since the report, wage growth has largely kept pace with inflation, meaning the trend has continued.
“For too long, America’s workers have been spending more hours at work but bringing home less pay,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.