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As protesters called for a wage hike outside the Milwaukee Theatre Tuesday night during the fourth Republican presidential debate, the two front-runners argued against increasing the salary for thousands of low-wage workers.
In the first question at the debate hosted by Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson were asked if they support a minimum wage hike. The answer was a resounding, “no.”
“Taxes too high. Wages too high. We’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is,” Trump said.
Carson blamed the Black unemployment rate on too high wages for minimum wage jobs. “That’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down,” he said.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said an increase would cause workers to lose jobs to technology. “Here’s the best way to raise wages. Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business.”
The statements came as about 1,000 Fight for $15 protesters rallied outside the arena, capping off a day of rallies in 270 cities. Fast food cooks, cashiers, home care workers, farm workers, among others, banded together in a call for a wage hike and a union in one of the biggest strikes to hit America’s fast-food industry, a spokesman told NewsOne.
An estimated 64 million Americans are paid less than $15 and comprise a powerful new voting bloc. Jihad Williamson is one of them. The Fight for $15 member walked off his job yesterday at McDonald’s and protested outside the debate in Milwaukee, he said in a statement to NewsOne.
“When fast-food workers first went on strike three years ago in New York City, most people gave them no shot to win,” he said. “Now, in the first question of the Republican debate, candidates were forced to respond to our calls for $15 and union rights, because there’s a growing understanding in America that $15 an hour is what American workers everywhere need to survive and support our families. We are a powerful voting bloc of 64 million nationwide and have one message for candidates of all political stripes running for office in 2016: come get our vote.”
Christine Owens, executive director of National Employment Law Project in New York, condemned the federal government for being slow to act to increase wages compared to companies and local governments that have enacted wage increases. New York State has already adopted a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, and next year, voters across the nation will consider minimum wage ballot proposals.
Democrats have been outspoken about their support for the initiative. During his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and candidate Bernie Sanders have both gone on record in support of Fight for $15. The Democratic National Committee, which railed against the Republicans’ Tuesday night debate performance on the issue, said the candidates do not represent a choice for hard-working Americans.
“Right off the bat, Republican candidates on stage last night, in the tradition of Mitt Romney before them, continued to demonstrate that they don’t understand how the American economy works for the middle class,” DNC spokesman Michael Tyler said in an email statement. “Rather than supporting investments in the middle class, like making college more affordable and raising the federal minimum wage, they stuck to old tax policies that only serve to prop up the wealthy and powerful corporations.”
Workers earning less than $15 per hour are disproportionately women and people of color. And more than half of African-American workers and close to 60 percent of Latino workers make less than $15.
With those numbers, the Republican Party clearly is not interested in courting voters of color, whose votes are badly needed to win the White House.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty