Q&A with Congressman John Yarmuth - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Q&A with Congressman John Yarmuth

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Congressman John Yarmuth, the Democratic U.S. Representative for Kentucky's third district, appeared on WDRB in the Morning to talk about some of the issues he's been working on in Washington as well as his views on some of the major issues facing lawmakers.

Economic recovery continues to be a hot issue.

"The economy is growing at three percent per year, which is not bad by historic standards, and manufacturing is coming back in places like Louisville at GE and Ford. But the recovery hasn't reached everybody," Yarmuth said.

Yarmuth says even though the economy has begun to move in the right direction, since the start of the recovery in 2009, 95 percent of the gains have gone to the top one percent.

"And that disparity in wealth and income between the very, very wealthy and everybody else is really growing at an alarming rate," Yarmuth said.

Yarmuth is co-sponsoring a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. He says it will help lift Kentuckians out of poverty and add more than a half-billion dollars to the state's economy over the next three years.

WDRB's Candyce Clifft asked where the line should be drawn when it comes to extending benefits beyond a certain time period.

"Right now, we're in a position in which the number of long-term unemployed -- those who are unemployed for more than six months -- is at the highest percentage of the workforce that it's been in 60 years," Yarmuth replied.

"So we're clearly at a very, very unusual point in terms of long-term unemployment. When that gets back to historic levels, normal levels, then I think we can think about discontinuing it. But right now it's 18,000 people in Kentucky -- growing at the rate of 700 or 800 a week -- who are losing their benefits. And the vast majority of these people are people who have lost their job through no fault of their own. They're out there looking for jobs, but unfortunately, there's still three people looking for every one job."

So the question becomes how do we get to those historic levels?

"We are on a slow path to getting there and most of the economists you listen to will say this is something that will take five years -- more -- until we get to what is basically a full employment economy," Yarmuth said.

"So it's a tough, tough thing, we're fighting a lot of trends. Automation of jobs. Computers and robots are ending a lot of careers, and the slow economic growth, the lack of investment in infrastructure and so forth are all causing us to grow much more slowly than we need to."

Yarmuth says growing the economy is a long-term proposition. "Some things the government can help with and some things they can't."

Although the federal minimum wage has been raised to $10.10 an hour for government contract workers, Yarmuth says he wants the new rate to apply to every American.

"Greg Stumbo and the state general assembly here has proposed raising it to $10.10 an hour. We have a bill in Congress that I'm a co-sponsor of that would do the same thing.

"What we need to remember is that we're at historic lows in terms of the way minimum age relates to every other salary, and the government -- the taxpayers -- are subsidizing those businesses who are paying less than the minimum wage, because those people are getting other types of support (like) the Earned Income Tax Credits, food stamps, Medicaid and so forth. So we're subsidizing those businesses if they don't pay a living wage, which we think is about ten dollars and ten cents an hour."

As part of the House "Gang of 8," Yarmuth spent most of 2013 helping write comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Clifft asked if we'll end up with a path to citizenship or something short of that.

"Well, I think we will end up with some kind of legalization," Yarmuth said. "There are different ways you can do it, and I think we shouldn't get caught up in what we call it. Because ultimately, everybody who becomes legal is on some kind of path to becoming a citizen. The question is how long and what hurdles to they have to jump over."

Yarmuth says recent actions from Speaker of the House John Boehner have given him hope that action will be taken soon.

"I'm still optimistic that we can get something done right now," Yarmuth said. "Everybody's saying it's off the table, but I think John Boehner ... is basically trying to get it out of the headlines so he can navigate his own people. All the signs we see internally are that he is trying to get something done this year. It's really critical, too, to the economy to the many families that are affected.

"As Jeb Bush put it, 'No Republican would vote for a bill that destroys families, destroys the economy and jeopardizes the security of the country. But if you vote against immigration reform, you're doing all those.' It couldn't be put better."

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