The congressman representing west Newton County is backing President-elect Joe Biden’s call for raising the minimum wage to $15 because it “needs to happen.”
However, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said he supports it being phased in rather than rising to $15 immediately.
He also wants a full investigation into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead and Johnson and others trapped as rioters tried to force their way into the House chambers.
Johnson was elected to an eighth term in November to represent Georgia’s 4th Congressional District.
The district includes the western half of Newton County, including the city of Covington, as well as southern Gwinnett and southern DeKalb counties and all of Rockdale County.
Johnson said an hourly wage of $15 equates to about $28,000 a year that barely covers a family’s housing, utilities, transportation, medical and daily expenses.
“You look at all the essentials,” he said. “It doesn’t go way far enough.”
“(Hourly pay of) $15 is the very least that can be done,” Johnson said.
He said pay for most workers in the U.S. economy has remained flat in recent decades. Reallocation of wealth since the mid-1970s has resulted in the highest 1% of income levels gaining significantly at the expense of the remaining 99%, Johnson said.
A 2019 study by the Federal Reserve revealed that families with net worths exceeding $1 million owned 79% of all household wealth and the bottom half of American families held only 1.5%.
Multi-millionaires who believed lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans would encourage them to invest their tax savings in jobs and higher wages have dominated Congress in recent years, Johnson said.
He said the two Georgia multi-millionaires who lost re-election to the Senate earlier this month were examples of the “kinds of policy-makers” who helped bring about economic inequality through federal tax policies that favored the wealthy.
“You’ve got people like Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in office setting policy,” he said.
Such economic insecurity among white voters led to them electing Donald Trump in 2016, Johnson said.
The same voters believed “Black and brown folks” were to blame for economic uncertainty when the “very Republicans they liked” helped it bring about with federal tax policies, Johnson said.
Johnson was taking part in his fourth electoral vote count on Jan. 6 since first taking office in 2007.
He said “not in my wildest imagination” did he believe rioters that day would enter the Capitol to try to stop something that typically had been an uneventful act of Congress.
Rioters surrounding the House chambers trapped Johnson and others in a third floor gallery. Capitol Hill police fired a shot as rioters attempted to enter and one woman in the crowd was killed by gunfire.
Police later were able to lead them Johnson and the other through a little-known side entrance, he said.
He said he mourned the two officers who died in the fracas — and wants to know how a mob could force their way into what is typically a heavily secured building.
“This needs to be investigated,” Johnson said. “Those responsible need to be held accountable. The investigation needs to run its course.”