By Mike Lillis - 03/07/13 05:01 PM EST
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday urged Congress to hike the hourly minimum wage dramatically.
Noting that Wall Street this week is trading at record-high levels, the California Democrat said those gains have done nothing to benefit middle-class workers, and called on Congress to close the gap.
"This week, we saw something quite remarkable, the stock market soaring to record heights. At the same time, we see productivity keeping pace," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "But we don't see income for America's middle class rising. In fact, it's been about the same as since the end of the Clinton years."
"If we are going to honor our commitment to the middle class," she said, "we have to reflect that intention in our public policy."
The Democrats' bill goes much further than President Obama advocated in his February State of the Union address, in which he urged an increase to $9 per hour. Harkin said recently that Obama "missed the mark" with the lower figure.
Pelosi's comments came in a week when the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 14,200 for the first time in history even as wages, as a percentage of the economy, are at an historic low (43.5 percent of GDP last year) and the nation's unemployment rate has hung stubbornly near 8 percent for roughly six months.
Economists say several factors can explain why corporate profits are not trickling down to benefit the working class, including the ever-rising productivity of the nation's workforce and a reluctance among companies to hire in a still-volatile economy.
Congress last approved a minimum-wage hike in 2007 as a rider to a must-pass bill providing funds to the troops in the Iraq War. The wage hike was conditioned on the inclusion of $5 billion in business tax breaks. The package was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.
With the business lobby warning that a minimum-wage hike wold cripple hiring amid a jobs crisis, the Harkin-Miller bill has little chance of moving through the GOP-controlled House. But Pelosi and the Democrats are hoping the combination of soaring Wall Street gains and middle-class wage stagnation will resonate with voters.
"When we increased it in 2007 ... it was the first time it had been increased in 11 years," Pelosi said. "It's time for it to be increased again."