Column Opinion — 21 March 2013

Who but Scrooge himself could possibly oppose raising the federal minimum wage?

President Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. If anything in this world is reasonable, it’s that.

Recently, however, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a proposal to raise the wage to $10.10 an hour over three years. The vote was 233-184, with all of the Republicans voting against it, along with six Democrats. Minnesota Rep. John Kline, who led the opposition, called it a “job destroyer.”

California’s Rep. George Miller said, “While corporate profits soar, while the Dow breaks new records and while the CEOs take home 380 times the wages of average workers, the lowest-paid workers are falling behind.”

Correction: Miller should have said “HAVE fallen behind, a long time ago.”

Democrats said raising the wage would pay for itself because while businesses would have to pay more in wages, their customers would increase because more people would have a bit more spendable income. That line of reasoning, however, never flies with cheapskate politicians.

The wage was raised quite a few times in history. The sky did not fall. Study after study shows that layoffs are rarely caused by minimum-wage increases and where layoffs did occur, new hires replaced them before too long.

In 1933, the minimum wage was set at 25 cents an hour. Sadly enough, the minimum wage had its highest purchasing power in 1968 when it was $1.68 an hour, the equivalent of $10.64 in 2012 wages, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009, the wage was $7.25, the last of three steps as set by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007.

Anti-minimum wage arguments always sound “benevolent,” but they are hollow.

“Oh mercy, it will hurt the poor!” some trumpet through crocodile tears. “Secondary earners, like youth, don’t need higher wages, anyway, as they are in lower-wage ‘starter jobs.’ It will break businesses, they’ll have to lay off workers and maybe close for good.”

Are young people in “starter jobs” some kind of sub-species, unworthy of decent living wages? Just stop and think how young people struggle to get a car, to maintain it, to pay car insurance, gas, groceries and in many cases rent – all of which keep skyrocketing. Young people are told the road to success starts with post high-school education. How are they going to save for education, which also keeps skyrocketing, when they make such paltry wages? We should raise their wages to let them know their hard work is appreciated so they have faith in a system that works for all, not just some. The way things are going, in this lopsided economy, some of these kids’ starter jobs may well become their permanent jobs – dead-end jobs.

And not to forget, there are other kinds of minimum-wage workers, and they are hardly young. They are senior citizens, some of whose investments for a happy retirement were blown out of the water because of reckless gambling by Wall Street hotshots. Thus, many now work in low-wage jobs to supplement their fixed incomes.

Fortunately, many good employers pay good wages, anyway, from a sense of economic justice and because they know decently paid employees appreciate it and thus do their jobs well.

If some companies cannot afford to pay an increased minimum wage, there should be a mechanism that if they can show why, they could be exempt from the wage raise.

Here’s another empty argument against the minimum wage: “The government should not tell free enterprise what to do.” Ah yes, “laissez-faire” all over again. The U.S Congress has done virtual contortionist tricks on behalf of the wealthy to make them wealthier throughout the years. Isn’t it odd, isn’t it disgusting, that when it comes time to give a little help to the working poor, these Scrooges, in their tightwad chorus, scream “Humbug!”

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About Author

Dennis Dalman
Dennis Dalman

editor@thenewsleaders.com Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. Mr. Dahlman, I have never thought to write a comment to anybody before, especially when it comes to politics, but after reading your article on raising minimum wages, I felt it appropriate. As a young adult, I have been able to support myself and my children by finding work that pays slightly above minimum wage. These jobs are not easy to come by and usually high pressure, stressful, and sometimes, quite disgusting. But by paying, for example $10/hour, employers are able to find responsible young adults to fill those jobs. I certainly do not consider myself to be a Scrooge, but I do not think it is a wise move to raise minimum wage to $9. There will be an overflow of qualified, skilled workers who will leave these stressful jobs to go slap together you sub sandwich or ring up you groceries for a slight pay cut. The only way employers will be able to keep these workers is by raising wages as well, which will raise their costs that will be passed directly to the consumer. But thankfully, they will be making more money, so they should be able to afford it! It usually seems that you put quite a bit of thought in your articles and I do enjoy reading them each week. This one, however, struck a nerve with me and it does not seem that you have put much effort in. Disappointed.

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