Archived Story

Raising minimum wage right move

Published 10:46am Thursday, April 17, 2014

One of the hot issues in this year’s political races is whether the federal minimum wage should be increased. It might seem obvious that if lower-income people had more money to spend it would be good for almost everyone.

President Obama and the Democrats have proposed that it be raised from its current $7.25 an hour to $10.10. Certainly, it would benefit the 17 million workers who’d get the increase — the majority of them women, who generally make less than men to start with. Some states have higher minimums, but none above the proposed level.

Many small business owners support a higher minimum wage. A 2013 poll by Greenberg Research showed 67 percent believe a higher wage is not only fairer, but will increase sales as customers have more money to spend.

Smart business people have known this since at least 100 years ago when Henry Ford voluntarily raised wages at his Ford plant to get the best workers, keep them longer and pay them enough money to buy his Model T’s.

So why do some folks, and most Republican members of Congress, oppose increasing the minimum wage? Some honestly believe raising wages will cause unemployment. They found support for this view in estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. But the CBO, it turns out, looked mostly at academic literature, rather than reality on the ground.

The fact is that states with the highest wages tend to have lower unemployment. And we know that since the first national minimum wage was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, our economy has gone mostly up. More recently, since the value of the minimum wage — measured against the value of the dollar — peaked in 1968, the real wages of ordinary working people have gone down.

The strongest opposition to raising wages seems to come from libertarians who believe almost all government regulation is bad, and the super wealthy who seem never to be satisfied with their massive wealth and want even more, by holding everyone else down.

Both of these groups say that if employers are free to pay lower wages they’ll hire more people and that will help the economy. But a look at history will make clear that doesn’t work.

I used to ask my students, “What was the minimum wage in the South before 1860?” Of course, the answer is zero. Millions of people worked in the South for literally slave wages — zero. For those who were enslaved, there was full employment, whether you wanted it or not.

People were minimally fed and housed, and that’s about it. I’m not saying the oligarchs of today want to return to slavery, but they do favor abolishing minimum wages, which would force people to compete for jobs at ever lower pay. The end result would be something like slavery, where you’re forced to work for food and shelter, but you’re paid almost nothing, and the owner typically lives far away where he can’t see the suffering caused by his low wages.

Yes, you might have the freedom to move, but how far can you go without money? In today’s world, as a few high-living, greedy billionaires gobble up businesses coast to coast, it may be pointless to move. And they oppose unions, which could help by increasing pressure for better pay.

Exaggerated picture? Maybe. But it’s no exaggeration to note that for millions of working Americans, no matter how hard they work, they barely tread water. It’s not a matter of education, either, since the large majority of minimum wage earners now have high school degrees or more — and in spite of the propaganda aimed at downgrading and privatizing our schools, kids are better educated than ever.

Nor are the minimum wage earners “kids.” Their average age is 35 and they bring home about half of their family’s income.

No one knows for sure all the effects of any government or business policy in the long run, but we certainly know it’s not fair for people to work day in and day out and barely be able to keep a roof over their heads. America’s future can be brighter than that — if we vote.

 

Southern Ohio writer, Jack Burgess, is a retired teacher of American & Global Studies.

  • mickakers

    keta; Your comment; “to be a fiscal Democrat is better than not being a Democrat at all.” Good Point!!! There are times, when I question my mental capabilities. My intention is not to judge women, that is in God’s hand as you aptly point out. God is not only the God of mercy and love but also the God of justice, people have a tendency to forget this in order to satisfy their own selfish desires. The woman is not the only one with rights, the unborn child also has rights, primarily the right to life and actually life begins at conception.

    (Report comment)

  • keta

    I cannot help but recall a dear friend of mine
    ———————————————————–

    I can’t help but recall Pope Francis’s words about your friends: “Who am I to judge them?” As for reproductive rights….I don’t know you, but I would guess you’re not struggling mentally,emotionally, financially; neither am I. I would prefer that the God of mercy and love judge women who choose not to bear a child they’ve conceived. I’m not qualified. Neither are you. Happy Easter, Mick. As a P.S. – to be a fiscal Democrat is better than not being a Democrat at all.

    (Report comment)

  • mickakers

    keta; As a PS: I hope they keep me in their prayers also. I sure need them!

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  • mickakers

    God Bless keta, have a joyful and blessed Easter season. I cannot help but recall a dear friend of mine at this time (Holy Week) who died of aids, two of them actually, both homosexual. Please keep them in your prayers, as I do.

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  • keta

    With all due respect, reproductive rights and the right to marry the person you love aren’t the hellscape that render all other rights “immaterial”. The republican party “holds the edge” in assembling the noose that will hang us. The only edge worth having is the one that made us great, and it’s founded on two things: equality and opportunity. Today’s republican party is the scourge of equality and opportunity. Anything that benefits anybody besides corporations and the wealthy not only isn’t worth their time, it’s socialism, evil, and the end of the world as we know it. So, corporations are people, money equals speech, the poor have only themselves to blame, and the ideal election strategy is to keep as many people as possible from voting. You know this. You’re willing to accept it because you think republican leaders share your one-issue pro-birth stance. Pardon me – you have two issues now. No autonomy for women re reproductive rights, no gays filing joint tax returns. Because that would spell doom. Sigh.

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  • mickakers

    I always find interest in the comment “women want to determine their own futures”, is this at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our society, the unborn? Women (not all) are quick to grasp at rights but slow to recognize responsibilities. Boy! I’m going to catch the devil over this comment. Sometimes the truth hurts.

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  • mickakers

    keta; As a PS: Without a doubt, the right to life and marriage between a man and woman is primary. This being said, the Republican party holds the edge. All other social issues can be worked out. Without the right to life and marriage between a man and woman, our society is doomed. Look around, you can see the decline in most aspects of our society and I am not speaking technologically.

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  • mickakers

    keta; Your perception of me as being a “conundrum” is mistaken. I speak the truth and the truth is not relative or a riddle. The foremost problem of our society is relativism. The right to life is THE primary right. Without THIS right, all other rights are immaterial. The bedrock and foundation of society is the FAMILY and a healthy and well rounded family consists of a FATHER (man) and MOTHER (woman) at the helm. The Democratic Party along with the Republican Party has it’s good points and bad points. The question is, what points are primary? May you have a Happy Easter keta!

    (Report comment)

  • keta

    Mick, you’re a conundrum. You obviously understand that not being able to work your way out of poverty dooms the democratic experiment. Without doubt, you understand Burgess’s point about downgrading and destroying the public school system, so that only people of means will be able to afford to educate their children. You understand the implications of these things, yet your positions on gays and abortion have you scratching your head over who to vote for. Some smart politicians have found a way to make you vote against yourself, to forget things it took you a lifetime to learn. When it’s all over, when the many are basically servants of the few, a lot of people are going to regret having become the tools of people who really couldn’t care less about justice, democracy, equality, or the children of poor women.

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  • keta

    I love the columns on the editorial page this week. Instead of rants about Jesus, and how the country’s going to hell in a handbasket because women want to determine their own futures – instead of nutball opinions about how Obama’s gonna take yer guns, we get these normal reasonable people who don’t embarrass us. Thanks, Tribune.

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  • mickakers

    Jack Burgess; I always enjoy your columns, they are food for thought. The majority of our clients at Catholic Charities are the WORKING POOR (minimum wage recipients) who’s wages do not keep up with inflation. My work with Labor Unions over the years has demonstrated the greed of large corporations without due concern for the people or the environment. Many large corporations, such as CSXT (railroad) have transferred the majority of their operations to the South due to the anti-union sentiment exhibited in this section of our country. If it were not for Labor Unions, we would have no middle class. The modern generation does not realize this fact. Your closing comment “if we vote”, but who for Jack? The decision used to be easy but now the decision is a bit more complicated. As you and I both know, in times past it was the Democratic party, they represented the common people and a wholesome family life. The Democratic party has changed, they do not represent all the people, they choose to endorse the killing of the unborn (abortion). They do not represent a wholesome family life as their support of so called Same Sex marriage exhibits. I found insight in your comment “For those who were enslaved, there was full employment, whether you wanted it or not.” In reality, there are different forms of slavery (subjection) as demonstrated by the Democratic Party and many members of our society, I am referring to, THE SLAVERY TO IMMORALITY.

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