LAS VEGAS — Vice President Joe Biden used a lunch stop at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Las Vegas on Monday to make a pitch for raising the minimum wage nationally to $10.10 per hour.
Biden had facts at his fingertips when he met with three Hispanic business owners, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and local Democratic Congressman Steven Horsford.
The vice president said boosting the minimum wage from the current $7.25 nationally would pump $19 billion into the national economy, because wage-earners would have more to spend.
“You have 256,000 people right here in Nevada that would be able to have ... 19 weeks of groceries and three months of rent paid, just by raising the minimum wage,” Biden said. “It’s good for business, good for the economy, good for people.”
The vice president’s Las Vegas visit was the first on a four-day, six-city Western swing that was also scheduled to include stops in Los Angeles later Monday; Bakersfield, California, and San Francisco on Tuesday; then Portland, Oregon, and Seattle for a Thursday event on the economy before returning to the nation’s capital.
The trip came days after U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez raised the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour, effective Jan. 1. The Labor Department also is expected to announce soon how it will implement and enforce extending federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections to home-care workers.
Biden’s visit followed a weekend in which he called the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to apologize for saying that U.S. allies had funded and armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaida.
Biden steered clear of foreign policy Monday, and instead referred to note cards as he spoke of lifting some 22 million people out of poverty by raising the minimum wage.
President Barack Obama has called for a higher minimum for all workers, but the proposal has been met with resistance from Republicans in Congress.
Biden said someone working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks making $7.25 an hour currently earns $14,500 a year — well below the federal poverty level of $23,800 for a family of four. At $10.10 per hour, the worker would make $20,200.
An official with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a liberal group that organized a “Fight for $15” protest among fast-food workers in Las Vegas last month that resulted in misdemeanor citations for 10 protesters, said low-wage jobs have accounted for most jobs added since the Great Recession.
Laura Martin, an organization spokeswoman, called $15 per hour “the very least that anyone needs just to survive in today’s economy.” That would pay a worker $30,000 a year.
Opponents of an across-the-board raise say it would hurt the economy and discourage the hiring of low-skill and low-wage workers.
“The costs for the people you’re trying to help outweigh the benefits,” said Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, a fiscally conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C.
Saltsman pointed Monday to a Congressional Budget Office analysis that suggests that up to 1 million jobs could be lost nationwide if the minimum wage was increased to $10.10.
In Nevada, the raise could cost 5,300 jobs, Saltsman said.
Louise Mendoza, a janitorial service business owner who sat with Biden for lunch, said she pays five full-time and six part-time employees between $12 and $15 per hour — higher than the minimum sought by the Obama administration and more than the Nevada state minimum wage of $8.25 per hour.
Mendoza acknowledged she wasn’t able to hire as many people, but said she wanted good workers.
“You have fewer people,” Mendoza said. “But I teach them how to build their own business.”