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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 30, 1996
                             TO THE NATION
                            The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today I want to talk to you about what we can do to make sure that working Americans have the chance to make the most of their own lives, to raise their children in security and to become winners in economic change.

I want to talk about something very simple we can do to help our hardest-pressed working families: Raise the minimum wage. Our nation is living through a time of great change -- our greatest economic transformation since a hundred years ago when so many Americans moved from farm to factory. Now we're all moving into an age of information and technology and global trade.

Four years ago our economy was drifting, with high unemployment, a deficit twice as high as it is now and few new jobs. I took office determined to change our course, to cut the deficit in half in four years, invest in education and training, expand exports through tough trade agreements like the ones that opened Japan to our autos and auto parts, and to shrink and reform the government so that it works better and costs less. It's now the smallest it's been since 1965, but still strong enough to protect work place safety, pure food, clean air and water, to help Americans get the education they need, to grow the economy and to protect our seniors through Medicare.

In 1992, I told the American people that if we implemented our economic plan, two things would happen -- we'd get 8 million jobs, and the deficit would be cut in half. Well, last month, we learned that our economy has already created 8.4 million jobs, nearly all of them in the private sector since 1993. And now, in 1995 and 1996, over half of the jobs coming in to the economy are in high-wage industries. And just yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office certified that by the end of this year the deficit will be less than half of what it was when I took office. Over 8 million jobs, the deficit cut in half -- two important commitments kept to the American people.

We've also got the lowest rates of unemployment and inflation combined in 27 years, record numbers of new small businesses. Our auto and telecommunications industries now lead the world. We've got a 15-year high in home ownership. And, finally, we have halted the decade-long slide in real hourly earnings. But this is a record to build on, not to sit on.

As I said in my State of the Union, one of the main challenges we face is to make sure that this new economy with all of its opportunity doesn't leave people behind who are willing to work for their opportunities. We've got to make sure that every American has the education and training, the health care, the pensions to be secure in this time of change, and that if they change jobs, they can take their health care and their pensions with them.

And we have to get wages rising again in this country for working people. We've got to make sure that our lowest-paid workers keep up. That's why in 1993 I cut taxes for working people on modest incomes through the Earned Income Tax Credit, giving tax benefits to 15 million working Americans -- a down payment on a strong commitment that no one who works full-time and has children in the home should live in poverty. And that is why we must make sure the minimum wage is a living wage.

Today the minimum wage is $4.25 an hour. Over many years, both political parties have worked together to make sure it keeps up with the cost of living. In 1989, the current leaders of both the House and the Senate joined together with Democrats and Republicans to raise the minimum wage. It went fully into effect exactly five years ago this Monday.

But since then, the minimum wage has stayed unchanged while the cost of living goes up. This year if Congress doesn't raise the minimum wage, it will drop in value to a 40-year low. That's why I proposed last year that the Congress increase the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.15 an hour. For a parent working full-time, this $.90 an hour increase would help pay for groceries for seven months, or four months of rent, or months of child care. Tens of millions of Americans would benefit; 70 percent of them, adults. These are among our hardest working people. Six out of ten of them are working women, many trying to raise children and hold their families together. Others are just getting started in the work force, trying to get a hold on the first rung in the ladder; all of them trying hard to do the right thing -- to work. Raising the minimum wage would honor both work and family. We should not leave behind anyone who is willing to work hard as our country moves ??forward.

Now, a majority of the senators supported increase in the minimum wage. But the Republican leadership of the Senate has refused to allow the minimum wage even to come up for a vote. In fact, you need to know that a member of Congress who refuses to allow the minimum wage to come up for a vote made more money during last year's one-month government shutdown than a minimum wage worker makes in an entire year. Over the past five years, while the minimum wage has been stuck at $4.25 an hour, a senator's salary has gone up by a third. That is wrong.

I challenge the Republican leadership to stop blocking a vote and let the majority rule. Pass an increase in the minimum wage. And Congress should vow that the next time they want to raise their own pay, they ought to raise the minimum wage, too. We hear a lot of talk in Washington these days about old-fashioned family values. Well, it's hard to raise a family on $4.25 an hour, but millions of Americans are out there struggling to do it.

Now, we can do the right thing and create jobs and grow our economy. This is really an age of remarkable possibility for our nation. More of our people will have the chance to live out their dreams than ever before. But we need to make sure that every American can become a winner in this time of economic change. If we don't want to grow apart as a people, we have to do the things that will enable us to grow together. Think about it. Support raising the minimum wage.

Thank you.

END 10:12 A.M. EST