When asked why President Obama chose to travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., (Go Blue!) to give a speech on the minimum wage Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney responded, "We love Michigan, everybody here." But there's more to it than that.
Obama wants to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. Congressional Democrats support the proposal, Republicans -- wait for it -- do not.
As in many other states nationwide, there's a push in Michigan to raise the minimum wage. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states are considering increases to their minimum wages this year. (Connecticut became the first state to do so last week.) Republicans in Michigan oppose an increase. And with Michigan's legislature controlled by Republicans and a governor (Republican Rick Snyder) who has voiced his opposition to raising the minimum wage, Democrats are trying to stir up energy for the effort at at the grass-roots level.
A coalition called Raise Michigan is spearheading the the drive to increase Michigan's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.40 an hour. The increase would be gradual and top out in 2017, and it would rise with inflation after. The group is trying to put an initiative on the November ballot to make that happen. They have until May 28 to collect 258,000 valid signatures. But that won't be the end; should the number of signatures be reached, the petition goes to the legislature where state lawmakers have 40 days to adopt or reject the proposal. If the state legislature does nothing, the question will go before voters.
While a Detroit Free Press poll conducted in March showed 65 percent of Michigan voters supporting raising the minimum wage, the thinking behind Obama's visit is to put the issue front and center -- on local news broadcasts and front pages -- while also stoking excitement within the Democratic grass roots to reach their signature goal. There are also competitive races for governor -- where former congressman Mark Schauer (D) is taking on Snyder -- and Senate, an open seat created by the retirement of Sen. Carl Levin (D), that are major targets for Democrats and where having their base motivated could make a critical difference in November.
Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn and has long suffered a loss of factory jobs. The current unemployment rate is 9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan, has been largely insulated from the downturn. Its unemployment rate is 6.6 percent.