“We need to leave it to the private sector,” he said when asked whether raising the minimum wage is a good idea, according to video from the event on YouTube.
“I think state minimum wages are fine; the federal government shouldn’t be doing this.”
Bush’s representatives did not return a request from The Hill to clarify whether Bush meant the federal government shouldn’t be raising the wage or setting a minimum wage altogether. Federal law sets the minimum wage at $7.25, but states have the leeway to raise that in their state.
Bush argued the calls for raising the minimum wage are driven by positive poll numbers, but that doing so only looks good on the surface. He added that workers in lower-paying jobs could benefit in the short term from a raise in pay, but that businesses would eventually change practices to cut costs and ultimately fire those employees.
“I’m sure, on the surface, without any conversation, without any digging into it, people say, ‘Yeah, everyone’s wages should be up,’ ” Bush said.
“But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people. Particularly for people that have less education.”
The Democratic National Committee jumped on Bush's statement.
“Raising the minimum wage is not a soundbite – it’s a commonsense policy that will help working families put food on the table and pay their bills," DNC National Press Secretary Holly Shulman said in an emailed statement to reporters.
"I wish Bush’s comments were surprising, but for his entire career, Jeb Bush has put the interests of big corporations and his wealthy allies ahead of what works for working families."
Democrats made minimum wage increases an integral part of their messaging in the 2014 midterm elections and many continue to push for an increase. But those calls haven’t led to support from the Republican-controlled Congress.
Most of the potential Republican candidates for the White House in 2016 do not back raising the wage, with some questioning its usefulness at all.
According to a Bloomberg report from a private donor event in January, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) backed the current federal minimum wage but raised similar concerns to Bush about raising it, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that he believes the “minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable.”
And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who’s currently leading the polls with Bush, said in October that he doesn’t think a minimum wage “serves a purpose” during an editorial board meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
This story was updated at 5:40 p.m.