Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

fair wagesPaula Bradshaw Supports a Living-Wage Law: “America needs a raise!”

In a speech delivered August 31, 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt made a common-sense observation that we seem to have forgotten about in recent years:

“No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so after his day’s work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life by which we surround them.”

We’ve all seen the numerous reports: Our nation has gotten richer, but almost all of the gains have gone to the wealthiest Americans, causing the greatest concentrations in wealth and income at the very top since the “Robber Baron” era of Roosevelt’s time. For working people, real wages have stagnated at best, and many workers have fallen behind, sinking into poverty.

During the so-called “recovery,” the situation has not changed. From 2009 – 2012, the top 1% has captured 95% of the income gains. Most of the new jobs created pay substantially less than the jobs lost in the 2008 collapse. The real value of the minimum wage in the United States peaked in 1968. Had it kept pace with inflation since then, it would be $10.90 per hour today, instead of $7.25. But that’s not even half the story. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity growth from 1968, it would be about $22 per hour.

Opponents of minimum wage hikes raise the fear that it will harm employment, arguing that increased costs to employers will cause them to either lay off workers or not hire new ones. This ignores the evidence that the increased costs to employers will be more than offset by increases in demand for the products produced by our manufacturers and small businesses.

The best economic research, and real world experiences with minimum wage increases, confirms that raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. A recent study showed that the states which raised the minimum wage in January, 2014 have increased the employment rate in their states. (See: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/07/03/3456393/minimum-wage-state-increase-employment/.)

Some opponents argue that if wages go up, prices will follow. However, an across the board increase in costs would not result in price increases in competitive markets. Second, any inflation occurring since the mid-1970s has nothing to do with wages, since real wages have declined since that time. Third, it is immoral to ask workers to work for poverty wages in the belief that they are subsidizing low prices for consumers. Fourth, consumers, as taxpayers, are currently subsidizing corporations by paying for food stamps and Medicaid for low-wage workers. Higher wages may mean lower profits for the 1 percent, but there is no reason that workers should work for substandard wages in order to subsidize higher profits for the wealthy.

Real solutions begin by electing real representatives of the people to Congress. Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw declares, “America needs a raise!” If elected, she will introduce a new law that makes the minimum wage in the United States a living wage, with automatic adjustments for inflation and productivity gains.