Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley spoke to constituents outside Kiva Grocery in Eugene today (Friday) to talk about the country’s income gap. He hopes to fight growing inequalities with a couple of pieces of legislation.
Senator Merkley hopes to raise the federal minimum wage. He says he’s co-sponsoring a bill that would increase it to $10.10 an hour over two years. The law would also include a yearly cost of living increase, which the senator says is critical:
Merkley: “because otherwise we end up with that number just slipping back. $10.10 does not get us to the purchasing power of 1968. It gets us closer. But the purchasing power of 1968 would be about $10.58. We need to get that COLA into the bill. I’m going to be fighting hard for that piece of it.”
Since 2002, Oregon has tied its minimum wage to inflation. It increased to $9.10 per hour on the first of the year, almost two dollars higher than the federal requirement.
Senator Merkley is also trying to restore the emergency unemployment benefits program, which ended on December 28th. Parts of Oregon have double digit unemployment. In those mostly rural areas, Merkley says, work is hard to find.