Minimum wage debate renewed on High Desert

President pushes for higher federal minimum wage

Time for a raise?

BEND, Ore. - The ever-controversial debate over the minimum wage is back on center stage after President Obama addressed the nation in his annual State of Union Address on Tuesday night.

"Say yes, give America a raise," the president urged Congress.

He's asking lawmakers  to push the federal minimum wage up $2.85 an hour.

It's not a subtle request, and it's sparking strong opinions in Central Oregon.

"Ten bucks an hour is outrageous," said one Bend man.

Another woman was all for it: "It's about time," she said. "If we want our consumers to have more buying power, than they have to make more money."

Others said it's not the government's place to determine what should be left to businesses.

"It will also probably force businesses to lay off some people," said one man.

It's an issue dividing Americans, but there's support from people you might not expect.

"I would support it," said Cuppa Yo co-owner Matt Gilstrap. "If we want to take care of the community and give back to the community, they need a little higher wage."

Another small business owner said,"I need people who have the money to buy the goods and services that I offer. And I think the $10-an-hour minimum wage is one small step toward that."

COCC economics professor Tom Carroll agrees that Oregon could likely handle a higher minimum wage than the current $9.10 an hour.

"(There could be) potential dislocation at some businesses, but the extra spending could generate as many or more jobs, as people spend more in grocery stores or go out and have meals," Carroll said Wednesday.

However, Carroll also said the president's efforts could hit other states with lower wages too hard, too fast -- and he's wary some are getting too greedy.

"In the Seattle area, where they're looking at $15 an hour, there would  be too much unemployment and too much stress on small and medium (sized) businesses," he said.

While the debate continues, the president is already planning his next move, which he made clear during his speech.

"I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour."

The federal minimum wage was last set in 2009 to $7.25 an hour. A total of 21 states have minimum wages higher than the federal one.

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