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Sponsors Predict Minimum Wage Will Be Raised

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The sponsors of House and Senate bills to raise the minimum wage are predicting that the Congress will approve the proposal this year, despite opposition from the business community and key Republican leaders who argue, among other things, that the higher wage will result in fewer jobs for teen-agers.

The bills, introduced in both chambers two weeks ago, would gradually increase the minimum wage to $4.65 an hour over the next three years. The current minimum, $3.35 an hour, has not been raised since 1981.

"For some 8 million of America's working poor, a higher minimum wage will help break the vicious cycle of poverty they have been living in for the past six years,'' Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, said in a statement late last month.

At a news conference, Mr. Hawkins and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachussets, said increases in the minimum wage were needed to offset the erosion in purchasing power caused by inflation. About 70 percent of the workforce is covered by the wage law.

Meanwhile, business lobbyists, who have banded together to form the "Minimum Wage Coalition to Save Jobs,'' contend that the higher costs of an increased wage will force employers to lay off workers.

"The best approach is to emphasize efforts such as training programs and education reforms, rather than raising wages and forcing the unskilled out of the job market,'' said Richard L. Lesher, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Administration officials, such as Secretary of Labor William Brock, have expressed concern that a higher minimum wage will add to already-high unemployment levels among minority youths. Over the past several years, the Administration has unsuccessfully sought to persuade the Congress to lower the legal wage for teen-agers.

A spokesman for Mr. Hawkins said last week, however, that foes of the minimum-wage bill have overstated the potential job loss to teen-agers. Staff economists for the House Education and Labor Committee, he said, estimate that only about 100,000 teen-agers would be adversely affected by the higher wage.--W.M.

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