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Clinton pushes for increase in minimum wage

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WASHINGTON — President Clinton urged Congress to boost the federal hourly minimum wage by a dollar to $6.15, arguing it would help 10 million workers and reduce welfare rolls without increasing the unemployment rate.

"Study after study shows that a raise in the minimum wage is good not only for working families, it's good for the entire economy," Clinton said in his weekly radio address.

The U.S. economy has gained 11 million jobs since Congress last raised the minimum wage four years ago, while the unemployment rate has fallen to 4 percent last month from 5.2 percent in September 1996, the president said.

Congress adjourned Thursday until Sept. 9 when it will return to a pre-election battle with Clinton over tax cuts and spending — a showdown that likely will include debate over the minimum wage.

House Republicans abandoned plans to pass a broad legislative package before the recess that would have included the minimum-wage boost, along with several initiatives they favor. The plan would have coupled the wage increase with tax cuts for businesses.

Clinton told a fund-raising luncheon Friday in Rhode Island that he believes Republicans will relent eventually.

"We're for raising the minimum wage and they're not," Clinton said.

"I'll bet they will do that before the election because that's pretty hard to defend."

Clinton said his proposal to boost the minimum wage by $1 over two years would restore it to its 1982 level in real-dollar terms.

About 10.1 million hourly wage-earners are currently paid between $5.15 and $6.14 an hour, according to the White House statement. About 69 percent are 20 or older; about 45 percent work full-time; and about 60 percent are women, the statement said.

The White House also contended that "numerous careful economic studies" have shown that increasing the minimum wage has no negative effect on employment. Some studies show higher wages can increase employment by helping companies retain workers, it said.