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Fast food workers call for a minimum wage hike

A waitress at Osha Thai Restaurant carries plates of food along with bowls of jasmine rice in San Francisco, Calif. President Obama proposed a minimum wage increase to help the lowest-paid workers. Opponents say businesses will just eliminate jobs.

Earlier today, President Obama called for a raise in the minimum wage. He pointed to the gap between the rich and poor that continues to grow. His speech comes at a very opportune for fast food workers, who have plans to walk off the job tomorrow in over a hundred cities across the country, demanding an increase to the federal minimum wage.

It's at $7.25 right now, and has been since 2009.

Nancy Koehn is an historian at the Harvard Business School. She says the strikes are not a huge factor in the possibility of wage increases.

“I don’t think right now the most important wave in raising wages is worker strikes. I think it’s much more of a large scale appeal,” said Koehn.

She says the minimum wage is stuck because we live in the age of a “constipated government” at the national level and that it will be interesting to see whether the “post debt ceiling moment” in the New Year will call for more decisions to be made in Washington.

Koehn says that around 43 percent of low wage workers have some college expereicen. That’s a huge deal, she says. 

“Americans understand and respect the working life. A day’s work should be played at a living wage," said Koehn. "We kvetch about all kinds of things. We disagree about the finer points of healthcare, food stamps, the social safety net, executive compensation. We don’t disagree about someone  showing up for work, doing a job and being paid a decent wage."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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