- Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 11:05
- Published on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 11:05
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America’s minimum wage dates back to the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. The idea behind this New Deal legislation was to set a floor to how low wages could go. It was nothing more than that. At the time, it was hotly debated. Those opposed to it said that it represented too much of an intrusion into the functioning of the domestic economy and if implemented would raise labor costs and force companies to lay off workers.
These are still the arguments the opponents of raising the minimum wage still use today. Sadly, they’re just as weak and unkind to those just getting by as they were 76 years ago.
America’s minimum wage was last raised in 2009 to $7.25 an hour. That’s substantially below the nation’s average hourly wage rate and as inflation has cut away at its buying power, many making this amount have fallen into poverty. Others, even with two earners making the minimum wage, often just barely make enough to stay above the poverty level. That’s why the President and a number of Congressmen and Senators, mostly Democrats, but also including some Republicans, would like to see it raised to $10.10.
In the United States 27.2 million people are paid at or below the minimum wage. Many opponents have argued that this primarily represents young or entry level workers. This argument, which to hear some members of Congress discussing it assumes everyone making the minimum wage is a high school student working at a fast food restaurant, is wrong from the start. The average age of a person making minimum wage is 35 and is pretty much evenly split between men and women. Doesn’t sound like kids with after school jobs to me.
A commonly repeated argument against increasing the minimum wage is that it will force companies, because of higher labor costs, to lay off workers. While, historically there has occasionally, though not always, been a slight dip in minimum wage employment after the rate has been increased, it never lasts more than a few months and is quickly made up. The economic data is sound, but this argument never quite seems to die. In Virginia, though the bill won’t get very far, Democrats in the House of Delegates have been championing an increase in the state minimum wage to $8.25. It won’t pass. The General Assembly, with the lopsided GOP majority in the House, just isn’t interested, but with 6.8% of the Commonwealth’s workforce making at or below minimum wage it’s a noble effort.
One thing many opponents to paying minimum wage forget as they espouse their desire to avoid interfering with industry is that when the minimum wage falls too low the workers end up having to apply for government assistance. In a sense, this means that state and federal governments are subsidizing the prevailing low wage rates. If the minimum wage were raised, 4.8 million Americans would rise above the poverty level and reduce their dependence on government programs. As a taxpayer that has a distinct appeal and makes me question why so many in the Republican Party are so opposed to raising the minimum wage. Maybe if they considered the issue a bit more they might change their minds. After all, should this really be a partisan issue?
The minimum wage is designed to be a floor that gives the lowest earning workers a break. It makes good economic sense, there are few downsides, and from a compassionate perspective, it’s the right thing to do.