U.S. Secretary of Labor talks minimum wage increase in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The U.S. Secretary of Labor was in Milwaukee on Wednesday, March 27th, talking with the working poor about how they scrap by. He was touting President Obama's plan to boost the federal minimum wage. It is a popular plan with workers, but not the people who sign their paychecks.

Marvin Jones works at a north side McDonald's restaurant. He does dishes, wipes tables, shovels snow and cleans the bathrooms.

"Oh my God, you wouldn't imagine how many people come in to use the bathroom, you know what I'm saying?  They don't really care how they leave it.  Now three or four times a day, I do have to wipe poop up, to the serious extreme, where it doesn't hit the toilet," Jones said.

For all that, the 45-year-old gets $7.25 an hour -- the federal minimum wage. His wages have stayed the same since last year, when he lost a higher paying job and took whatever he could get.

Jones was part of a round table discussion with acting United States Labor Secretary Seth Harris about President Obama's plan to increase the minimum wage.

"The President's proposing increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. That will be a very big improvement in the quality of life for these folks -- people who are scraping to get by, making impossible choices," Harris said.

Business owners like Bret Eulberg, who owns three small businesses, including jewelry stores and a candy popcorn maker, says the market should dictate wages -- not the government.

"If you come to work for me, I make you an offer.  If you don't want to work for the wage I offer, that's your choice," Eulberg said.

Eulberg says an increase in the minimum wage would force him to lay off some of his staff.

"When you start adding up, if you have 10 employees making an extra $2 an hour, in a 30 hour work week, that adds up real fast, real quick," Eulberg said.

Eulberg sees the minimum wage as a starting wage and not a living wage, but for workers like Jones, it's all he can get, and the budget is tight.

"Two two-week periods is $800 a month. Now, my rent is $500 and my electric bill is $200, and it takes that extra $100 for me to live off of.  $40 out of that $100 is for bus fare. That leaves me with $60 to make it for the rest of the month," Jones said.

The acting U.S. Labor Secretary says he's optimistic that some kind of bill to increase the minimum wage can pass through Congress.