CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- President Barack Obama's State of the Union call for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour prompted a flurry of press releases and online comments. According to a White House fact sheet, an increase in the minimum wage would directly boost the wages of about 15 million workers. In 2011 -- the latest year for which figures are available -- 34,000 of the 462,000 workers in West Virginia who were paid hourly rates earned the federal minimum wage or less, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The White House fact sheet pointed out that Obama also proposed raising the minimum wage for tipped workers, "which has not been increased for over 20 years." Asked how many tipped workers there are in West Virginia, Courtney Sisk, spokeswoman for WorkForce West Virginia, said, "Many occupations receive tips, but we focused just on servers who receive a server wage and rely on tips to compensate for the difference. As of third quarter 2012, there were 12,110 waiters and waitresses (servers) reported in our survey." Here's another factoid: The White House said raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour "would restore the real value of the minimum wage to what it was in 1981." According to a study of the federal minimum wage by Oregon State University, the first federal minimum wage was 25 cents an hour, set in 1938. A couple of the study's noteworthy findings:
"Calculated in real 2012 dollars, the 1968 minimum wage was the highest at $10.51."
"The 2012 minimum wage is equal to what was paid in 1960."
"Minimum wages have never been sufficient to raise a family out of poverty, if only one member of the family works."
* * *
Mining giant Rio Tinto's 2007 purchase of Alcan for $38.1 billion was the subject of a review in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.
"The premium-priced deal came at a cyclical peak -- aluminum prices were at a 20-year high," the newspaper said. "That was before aluminum prices crashed as China produced more than expected and consumer demand for everything from cars to cans plummeted with the financial crisis."
Dick Evans, the former CEO of Alcan, was quoted as saying Rio Tinto's decision to acquire the aluminum company was one of the "worst decisions ever ... "
The results have been dramatic:
Rio Tinto was forced to sell many of its aluminum businesses to pay down debt. In 2011 the company went from being a majority stakeholder to a minority stakeholder in the Alcan Rolled Products Plant in Ravenswood -- the largest employer in Jackson County. The company that now operates the plant is named Constellium and major decisions are made in Paris.
Rio Tinto has taken a total of $25 billion in write-downs on the Alcan transaction, and last month Rio Tino CEO Tom Albanese resigned.
Reach George Hohmann at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.