WASHINGTON, D.C. – In advance of tomorrow’s State of the Union address, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference call to preview the speech and urge Congress to strengthen our middle class and ensure the opportunity for every American to be a part of it. Joining him on the call was his guest to the State of the Union, Liz Dandridge, an employee at Cincinnati’s Head Start Program. Dandridge joined Brown in calling for Congress to create jobs and strengthen our national and local economies by raising the federal minimum wage for all Americans—both federal and non-federal; extending emergency unemployment insurance; establishing a Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NMI); and passing Brown’s SECTORS Act which would help train workers for high skilled jobs.    

“I hope President Obama’s speech will provide an important call to action on the issues facing our country—the lack of good-paying jobs and the growing distance between worker productivity and a living wage,” Brown said. “1.3 million Ohioans would get a raise under the Fair Minimum Wage Act that I’m fighting to pass. I hope President Obama will make a strong case for raising the minimum wage for all workers—federal and non-federal, investing in manufacturing innovation and job creation, and ensuring that workers are training for the jobs of the 21st century.”

Brown and Dandridge highlighted the nearly 1.3 million Ohioans who would receive a pay raise if the minimum wage was increased to $10.10 an hour as Brown has proposed. The base wage for workers in Dandridge’s position is typically just $8.67 an hour. While Dandridge makes more due to additional credentialing, she still struggles to make ends meet and has been involved in organizing efforts for a fair minimum wage.

“I am honored to join Senator Sherrod Brown for the State of the Union to call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour,” Dandridge said. “We are blessed to have champions of working people like Senator Brown fighting for us in Washington.”

Specifically, Brown called for Congress to:

  • Raise the federal minimum wage in order to make it a living wage. President Obama announced today the he would use the authority of the White House to issue an Executive Order (EO) that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts for services. Brown applauded the decision and called for passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage for all workers—federal and non-federal—to $10.10 an hour from its current $7.25 in three steps of 95 cents, then provide for automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. It would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years from just $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. Workers who are paid a minimum wage in Ohio earn only $16,000 per year, which is more than $3,000 below the poverty level for a family of three. Passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act would boost the minimum wage to $21,000 annually, lifting families above the poverty line. According to the National Employment Law Project, the minimum wage has lost more than 30 percent of its spending power over the last 40 years. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be worth approximately $10.55 per hour today. Increasing the minimum wage would boost our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by nearly $33 billion and generate 140,000 new jobs over the course of three years as workers spend their raises in their local businesses and communities.  
  • Extend emergency unemployment insurance for the 1.3 million Americans who are still struggling following the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. According to a report generated last month by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, the reduction in job seekers’ incomes would lead to a fall in economic demand, which would cost 240,000 jobs this year. According to the study, for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits, $1.55 is generated in economic recovery. Immediately following the conference call, Brown released county-by-county data on the number of Ohioans who lost their unemployment insurance after 2013. In total, more than 52,000 Ohioans were immediately stripped of their Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits as a result of an extension not passing or their 63 weeks of eligibility for the program expiring. By the end of 2014, another 76,000 Ohioans will lose their emergency unemployment insurance if an extension is not passed.
  • Establish a Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NMI) to ensure that the U.S. can out-innovate the rest of the world while creating thousands of high-paying, high-tech manufacturing jobs. Following Brown’s call last year, President Obama specifically supported the creation of a NMI in his 2013 State of the Union address. Earlier this month, the Administration also announced that a new public-private manufacturing hub would be modeled after Youngstown’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). This news built on the momentum created when the Senate Manufacturing Caucus endorsed Brown’s bipartisan bill, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI). Brown’s legislation would establish a NMI and is designed to bring together industry, universities and community colleges, federal agencies, and all levels of government to accelerate manufacturing innovation in technologies with commercial applications. It would establish public-private institutes to leverage resources to bridge the gap between basic research and product development. Brown’s bill would particularly benefit a state like Ohio which has nearly 650,000 manufacturing jobs, third most in the United States.
  • Pass the SECTORS Act, bipartisan legislation Brown authored that would help dislocated workers train for high-tech jobs in their region. Due to new jobs and retirement, a recent report found that between 2008 and 2018 Ohio will create 967,000 job openings requiring postsecondary education or training. But according to Forbes, Ohio ranks tenth in the nation among states with the biggest looming skilled labor shortages. By tailoring workforce development to the needs of regional, high-growth industries, more workers could receive placements and more businesses could be attracted to a region based on a “clusters” approach. The SECTORS Act would organize stakeholders connected to a regional industry, including business and labor leaders, education and training providers, and local workforce and education system administrators, to develop plans for growing that industry. Brown’s bill also wouldn’t add to the budget because it would use existing Workforce Investment Act funds.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that more than 30 million American workers would get a raise under the Fair Minimum Wage Act, including 1.27 million Ohioans. Brown recently met with Ohio businesses that believe increasing the federal minimum wage would benefit their business, including the Yankee Kitchen, a diner in Youngstown; Grounds for Thought, a coffeehouse and bookstore in Bowling Green; Dempsey’s, a restaurant in Columbus; Brothers Printing, a print shop in Cleveland; and Synergistic Systems, a computer consulting company also in greater Cleveland.  

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program was authorized by Congress in 2008 and has supported nearly 69 million Americans, including almost 17 million children. In 2012, unemployment benefits helped keep about 2.5 million Americans further away from poverty, which included 600,000 children. Just in Ohio, more than 790,000 Ohioans have received EUC benefits between 2008 and 2013; since 2008, more than 6,500 Ohio jobs have been saved due to EUC benefits; and the average weekly unemployment benefits in Ohio is $318.

Brown introduced the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and previously worked with Blunt to pass a bipartisan amendment to the Senate Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 aimed at establishing a NMI. In August 2012, Brown visited M-7 Technologies in Youngstown to announce a $30 million grant from DoD—matched by nearly $40 million in industry and other funds—for the creation of NAMII, which became a new, first-of-its-kind manufacturing institute that specializes in additive manufacturing technology, a type of 3-D printing in which digital models are used to make parts and components.     

In July 2013, Brown introduced the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). The SECTORS Act is currently endorsed by the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), National Skills Coalition, National Network of Sector Partners, Ohio Workforce Commission (OWC), Policy Matters Ohio, Towards Employment, and United Way of Central Ohio.