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Labor official visits Phoenix to talk about minimum wage increase

PHOENIX — A top U.S. labor official visited Phoenix Friday for talks on increasing the minimum wage.

Wage and Hour Deputy Administrator Laura Fortman heard life stories from several minimum wage workers.

One of them is 20-year-old Hector Florez, of Phoenix. He still lives at home, but his parents are unemployed. His dad made $18 an hour as a construction worker until five years ago. He was fired after his employer did a check through the E-Verify system and found that he had a false Social Security card.

The family of seven lives on the money Florez earns from his $8.50-an-hour job at a Family Dollar store.

“I have to pay utilities and food,” Florez said. “Not having another job inside the house means that everything is on me.”

President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union speech that the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10 an hour, and Fortman agrees.

“Definitely!” she said. “Currently, if you’re working full time, you’re below the poverty level. It’s just not OK to be working full time, working hard and living in poverty in the United States.”

Fortman said she’s confident that raising the minimum wage would help the workers, even if stores and restaurants increase their prices to offset increased labor costs, which means the workers might have to pay more for basic necessities.

“People are able to get more security by having a little bit more income,” she said.

Fortman’s visit to Phoenix is part of a tour that also included stops in Las Vegas and Portland, Maine, within the past couple of weeks.