WHAT IS to be done with the federal minimum wage — stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, with no raise in sight? One approach is just that: Stay with the status quo, on the theory that a higher minimum wage is a job-killer. As House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has put it, “When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”

Backers of a higher minimum acknowledge the potential for job losses but argue that it is minor and more than offset by the benefits to low-income workers and society at large of a raise. In the absence of congressional action, they are pushing for increases at the state and local level (19 states and the District already have minimum wages above the federal level). On Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill that will raise the minimum in the nation’s largest state to $10 by 2016. The U.S. economy needs a national policy, not a patchwork of state and local laws.

It’s time for a grand bargain on the federal minimum wage, one that recognizes that both sides in this seemingly endless debate have a point. A decent society can afford neither to price entry-level workers out of jobs nor to leave them completely without leverage in the labor market.