Who favors a federal minimum wage hike to $10.10/hour? Oh, just 73% of Americans based on a recent Pew Research Center survey. Who would be against one? Not hard to guess. Yes, those pesky Republicans blocked a new minimum wage bill. A bill needs 60 votes in the Senate to even be discussed, but the minimum wage bill only received 42 affirmative votes, 41 Democrats and 1 Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee whose state doesn’t even have a minimum wage law on the books. The brave senators from Mississippi and Arkansas, whose states have a minimum wage below the federal minimum, did not vote at all. The bill ultimately fell victim to a 53 vote Republican filibuster. The Grand Old Party of NO said NO again and likely will continue to say NO to a raise for hard working Americans even as Congress, whose members average $174,000 a year, and whose median net worth is over a million dollars, is set to receive a 1.6% increase in 2015.
But why the hostility toward a minimum wage hike? First, Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage would force businesses to lay off workers as they would not be able to absorb the added labor costs. As a result, they say unemployment would increase, businesses would shutter and the economy would collapse, even though there is no evidence to support such a claim. Second, they argue the market, not the government, should set wages as a matter of principle. Some are actually against the very concept of a minimum wage which they see as the big hand of government shouting orders. Some of the poorest states in the union like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, states that have anti-union “right to work” laws in place, have no state minimum wage laws at all. This simply means that in the absence of a federal minimum, they would leave the rates up to employers. Georgia, another “right to work” state, has the lowest minimum wage at $5.15. Companies still have the pay the federal rate of $7.25, unless they have fewer than 6 employees, or the work is seasonal or covers a training period, in which case they can pay the lower rate and very often do.
Interestingly, there is a considerable variance in the minimum wage paid state by state, from no minimum to $9.32 in the state of Washington. 10 states link their minimum wage to the consumer price index which typically produces a yearly increase. 20 states pay the federal minimum, 21 states including D.C. pay more than the federal minimum. 4 states have rates lower than the minimum and 5 southern states mentioned previously have no minimum wage rates whatsoever. It’s not too surprising that red states resist federal measures because if they had it their way, they would secede from the Union – arguing that states’ rights (to exploit their own citizens) must prevail.
The proposed new federal rate is $10.10, which won’t make workers rich, but it will make it easier for folks to pay bills and support their families and it should inject more money into the economy. When FDR championed the first minimum wage law during the depression years, it was to lift people out of poverty and to stimulate the economy. Some 75 years later, the minimum wage has NOT increased enough to continue to meet its purpose. A considerable number of working poor cannot make ends meet which never bodes well for the economy. The Republicans argue that tax breaks are what is needed, not wage increases – tax breaks for the rich who don’t need them and to corporations, who are people thanks to Citizen’s United, who need them only to make MORE profit. It’s time for the working poor to “profit” for a change.