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Obama Minimum Wage Order’s Biggest Payoff Is Symbolism

Released: 2/12/2014 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
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Louis Hyman, an expert on consumer debt, labor relations law and history, and professor at Cornell University’s ILR School, discusses President Obama’s decision to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors.

Hyman says:

“While few federal contractors are earning the minimum wage, an executive order would send a clear message.

“Historically, such executive orders have been more effective in changing the long-term conversation than having a short-term impact. Consider FDR's famous executive order 8802, which forced federal contractors to desegregate during World War II. Did it force the desegregation of the entire American workforce? No. But it marked a first step towards the federal government's willingness end Jim Crow in the workplace.

“Obama's executive order would not provide a living wage to Americans, but it would make sure that the idea of the living wage would continue to be in the public conversation for years to come.”

Media Note: Hyman has co-produced one of the first major historical MOOCs, “American Capitalism: A History,” tracing the history of capitalism from the 15th century to today. It is a global history of American capitalism that is designed to help explain how the middle-class market for consumer goods is eroding.

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