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Why GOP should support raising minimum wage

By Andrea Purse
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
A poll says most women support raising the minimum wage.
A poll says most women support raising the minimum wage.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama recently urged Congress to raise the national minimum wage
  • Andrea Purse: GOP should support this issue, especially if it wants to attract female voters
  • She says raising minimum wage to $10.10 would save $46 billion from the federal coffers
  • Purse: Republicans need to see women as breadwinners and drivers of economic growth

Editor's note: Andrea Purse is the vice president of communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive public policy organization.

(CNN) -- President Obama recently gave a speech urging Congress to raise the minimum wage and announced on Wednesday plans to require employers to pay overtime to more salaried employers. The President is certainly doing the right thing for the American public, especially women.

A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University shows that women are huge fans of raising the national minimum wage. Seventy-six percent of women and 65% of men surveyed support it.

Minimum wage is poised to be a driving issue this year. Given how it polls among women, Republicans should seize the chance to enact good policy and good politics with a group of voters they've been alienating.

Andrea Purse
Andrea Purse

According to a CNN/ORC International Poll, 55% of Americans say the GOP doesn't understand women. That number rises to 59% among all women and 64% among women older than 50.

The 2012 election might have been one of the most embarrassing in recent memory for Republicans, who insulted female voters time and again and seemed tone deaf about the challenges that women face. The result is that women ran from the GOP in droves.

The bad news for Republicans is that this voting trend won't change overnight, not as the "party of family values" continues to reject any ounce of family-friendly policy that might help women and their families grow and thrive.

The GOP's policies don't just harken back to the "Mad Men" era; Fred Flintstone could be their architect. They don't really consider women as the powerful economic agents they are.

In large numbers, both House and Senate Republicans voted against restoring the rights of women to challenge fair pay practices when they were curtailed by the Supreme Court. Republicans also blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide more effective remedies to women who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work. Equal pay would not only help the families who depend on female breadwinners, but it would also be a boon for the overall economy by adding $447.6 billion to the GDP.

Failing to raise the minimum wage might be a boondoggle for the current set of Republican lawmakers, in that almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women, and women care about this issue deeply.

There should be a lot for conservatives to like in raising the minimum wage. Raising the wage to $10.10 would save $46 billion from the federal coffers in food assistance, an area where Republicans have said they want to find significant savings. That is real savings for those who claim to care about deficits: $4.6 billion in the first year alone.

Republicans would be smart to leave behind minimum wage deniers like Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who have expressed the view that they don't even think we need a minimum wage. These views are out of the mainstream of the American public and threaten to return the American workforce to the dark ages of employee abuse and mistreatment.

The women who earn the minimum wage are not teenagers working the counter at McDonalds; they are caregivers, child care workers and retail workers. Nearly 80% of women who earned at or below the minimum wage in 2012 were 20 years old or older, and just less than 40% were 30 years old or older.

Oftentimes, these are women who are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their entire families, so adding to their wages could potentially give them additional buying power, which can help lift the economy overall.

Instead of agreeing to a media friendly set of promises to try harder to court female candidates, and finding the right female elected members to be the outward face of the party, women want Republicans to dig a little deeper to find the real solutions that would make their lives better.

This isn't about using the right buzzwords to not insult women, their bodies, or their place in the family. What would really matter is if Republicans advocated for women where it counts: as breadwinners and drivers of our economic growth.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrea Purse.

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