The Minimum Wage, Public Opinion, & the Lost Art of Political Compromise



Even though we now know that it can't be included in President Joe Biden's Covid relief package, a minimum wage increase should be fairly simple. It hasn't been raised since 2009 and its buying power has been undermined by a dozen years of inflation. Congress should have included an inflation adjustment in the legislation back then, but there wasn't adequate support and so we are left with the same debate; a living wage vs. job losses.


Democrats support an increase to $15 per hour, phased in over several years with automatic cost of living increases, and argue that if pay had kept up with productivity gains it should actually rise to $24. Republicans, forgetting that they now want to be the Party of the working man, argue that a minimum wage hike would hurt businesses and that pay rates should be set by market forces. Economists, as we have noted before, generally support a hike and point to numerous studies conducted in states that have raised worker pay without harming employment opportunities. Average Americans, of all political persuasions, are quite supportive of a hike.

Brookings.edu: "First of all, raising the minimum wage isn’t just a progressive position. There is now robust bipartisan support among voters for a significant increase in the federal minimum wage, which has not budged in a dozen years. In November, Florida voters approved an increase to the state minimum wage by a margin 11 points wider than Donald Trump’s victory there. (Florida became the first state in the South, and eighth in the nation, to approve a gradual hike to $15.) Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac poll conducted in late January found that 61% of Americans favor the increase to $15 at the federal level."

OK, so why is this so difficult? Politics, of course. Republicans want to prevent Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats from delivering on a key campaign promise and a wage hike to $15 isn't as popular in their rural strongholds where hourly wages tend to be lower than in urban and suburban communities. That's why West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin opposes the $15 figure.


The whole question is ripe for negotiation and compromise if we can still do that in the age of hyper-partisan politics. Is there a solution that would allow both political parties to claim victory while serving the interests of the public? Yes, of course, and it shouldn't take a master negotiator to get it done. Try this; quickly phase in a two-step increase to $11.50 in 2022 and $13.50 per hour in 2023, and then automatically bump the rate each year based on inflation. Millions of low wage workers, including many "essential" pandemic workers, would receive a much needed raise, Democrats would get their long-desired annual inflation increase, and Joe Manchin and the GOP can argue that they tamed the "radical" progressives in Congress. And America would have a legislature that works again.


Will this, or something close, get done? Probably not. Instead of compromise, Congress may well end up doing nothing....again. And that says a lot about the state of politics in our great nation. Compromise is a lost art.


#politics #economics

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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