Raise the minimum wage now

The Wisconsin Gazette

The minimum wage reached its peak value in 1968 and has been falling ever since. If it had kept pace with inflation, the minimum wage would now stand at $10.74 per hour instead of $7.25.

Today, with less of the nation’s wealth going to workers than ever before and income inequality near record levels, it’s both morally and economically indefensible not to raise the federal and state minimum wages to at least $10.10, as Democrats have proposed and Republicans have blocked. 

Since the year began, 13 states have raised their minimum wages, as have numerous municipalities (including Milwaukee). On average, those states have seen higher job growth than states (like Wisconsin) that have kept their minimum wages at 2013 levels. 

Raising the minimum wage increases the standard of living for workers at the bottom of the pay scale and saves taxpayers costs associated with public assistance programs, such as food stamps. The majority of food stamps go to the working poor.

The liberal Center for American Progress found that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour nationally would save taxpayers $4.6 billion in spending on food stamps alone. 

Under the current minimum wage, highly profitable companies such as Walmart tell workers to apply for food stamps so they can afford to eat. Walmart and other minimum-wage-paying companies argue that if they had to pay employees a livable wage, then consumers’ prices would rise.

That argument amounts to a strange form of socialism whereby government protects the uber-rich from having to pay the cost of doing business and protects consumers from having to pay the actual cost of goods. We find it disturbingly hypocritical that conservatives rail that individuals should live from the fruit of their labor and not from government handouts, yet they support a minimum-wage policy that forces government to pick up the costs of private business in order to maintain corporate profits and hold down consumer prices. (A UC-Berkeley study on the effect of raising the minimum wage to $12 found that the average shopping trip to Walmart would cost 46 cents more and the average cost of a Big Mac would rise by a dime.)

Conservatives’ views on the minimum wage also put them in the position of opposing a policy that spurs both job growth and economic activity. Studies have demonstrated that raising the minimum wage puts more money into consumers’ pockets and thus increases economic activity in our consumer-based economy.

A study of the state of Washington is particularly revealing. At $9.32 an hour, the state’s minimum wage is the nation’s highest. Washington first adopted the nation’s highest minimum wage in 1998, and it’s been tied to inflation ever since, allowing for plenty of time to examine its impact.

A Bloomberg study found that in the 15 years following Washington’s initial minimum-wage increase, job growth averaged 0.8 percent annually — 0.3 of a percentage point above the national rate. Payrolls at Washington’s restaurants and bars, which are said to be the most vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21 percent. 

At the time Washington’s higher minimum wage was raised, opponents warned it would kill jobs and hurt the workers it was designed to help. It didn’t. It helped Washington’s economy, and it would help the nation’s.

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