Editorial: On minimum wage, hold lawmakers accountable
One way or another, how an office holder votes on the minimum wage – whether to raise it, leave it at its current $7.25 per hour or scrap it entirely as New Hampshire did on the state level in 2011 – will be a factor in the fall elections. That’s as it should be. Lawmakers, and candidates, should be held accountable for their positions on matters of basic fairness and the economic well-being of the nation. America does not benefit from an economic structure that permits someone who works full time, at no matter how humble a job, to live in poverty.
Last month, by executive order, President Obama raised the minimum wage for new federal contract workers in stages to $10.10 per hour in 2017. Legislation before Congress would do the same for all workers. On the home front, a bill sponsored by Chichester Rep. Sally Kelly that has the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan would set New Hampshire’s minimum wage at $8.25 next year and $9 in 2016. The bill deserves to pass. New Hampshire is the only New England state without a minimum wage of its own, and the $7.25 rate imposed by federal law is significantly lower than the minimum wage set by New Hampshire’s neighbors.
To hold candidates accountable, voters must know the facts about the minimum wage. That requires cutting through the fog of misinformation, disinformation and spin released by lobbyists representing industries that pay low wages and people opposed to any government-imposed minimum pay rate.
The New York Times recently profiled the operators of one of the fog machines opposing an increase in the federal minimum wage. It’s a Washington, D.C., advertising firm that’s heeded the suggestion of songwriter Paul Simon when he penned, “Why don’t you and I get together and call ourselves an institute.” Berman and Co., among other activities, creates institutes. To combat the minimum wage, it has the official-sounding Employment Policies Institute. Be wary of such entities, particularly those created not to do research but to weigh in on matters of public policy. What they seek to institute are laws that benefit their clients, in Berman’s case organizations representing the restaurant industry.
Last month, the “institute” released a study that said that a $10.10 federal minimum wage would cost the nation between 360,000 and 1,084,000 jobs. That result is starkly at odds with decades of objective studies of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on employment. On the same day the “institute” released its report, 600 economists, including seven Nobel laureates, sent a letter to Congress and Obama supporting the increase because “the weight of evidence now (shows) that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”
The real value of the minimum wage has been falling for decades. Today, a full-time employee earning $7.25 per hour makes about $15,000 per year, which is not enough, in many places, to afford both rent, food and other necessities. At $10.10 that worker would earn about $21,000. That’s enough to live, if not in comfort, with dignity.
Raising the minimum wage tends to raise the wage of all low-income workers and lift some out of poverty. It would be a small step toward reducing the gross economic disparity that destabilizes societies. And, because those who earn more spend more, increasing the minimum wage creates jobs. Come fall, it will pay to know where everyone running stood on votes to raise the minimum wage.