You might think, if you’re one of those Americans who do think, that at a time when wages, even for the college educated have been sluggish or stagnant for more than thirty years, at a time when purchasing power for the current minimum wage is at its lowest point in 51 years, and 30% lower than it was in 1968, when unemployment is high, and lack of consumer demand is largely responsible, urging an increase in the minimum wage is about as sensible a thing as you’ve ever heard. If you’re an ideology-hogtied Republican, meaning not one to think, but rather to recite the ideological catechism or to loudly read passages out of Atlas Shrugged, raising the minimum wage is the most controversial thing under the sun, and Obama’s call to raise it from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 is tantamount to a declaration to nationalize every private industry or to establish Kolkhozes across North America.
Lincoln, all so relevant at the moment in popular culture, said:
“It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government.
“It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor.
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed.”
The reasons this is shocking are twofold: first, it came out of the mouth of a Republican, though not one you could pick out of a lineup of today’s Republicans; and second, the degree to which America’s balance between labor and capital has skidded out of whack. With unions increasingly decimated literally and politically, as American companies have packed up jobs and moved them overseas, any upward pressure whatsoever on wages long has been virtually non-existent. Such a state of affairs may make for paradise on earth for CEO’s and the current lot of plutocrats and America’s Ayn Rand star-struck Republican Party, but it is indefensible in a nation that purports to pride itself on its middle class, Republicans seldom even bothering to as much as purport it at this point.
In developing or third world countries with tiny GDP a living wage for full time employment is perhaps neither practical nor a moral imperative. In a nation of our size and wealth, with the long expanding GDP that increased productivity by our workers has made possible, at the same time the rewards of such expansion have accrued only to a tiny sliver of citizens, any status quo in which a full time worker cannot earn a living above the level of poverty is a moral abomination, and an economic self-inflicted wound for the country as a whole.
And it is indisputable that America currently is in the throes of the worst income and wealth disparity in a hundred years, so much financial and commensurate political power in the hands of owners and employers and the very wealthy that average workers are at their utter mercy, both in the workplace and in the democratic process itself. That virtually all of GDP as it expands, both before and after the recession accrues to this tiny lofty niche, is indicative of average workers’ treatment in current times, and of the avariciousness of those who so poorly compensate them in order to build the staggering largesse America’s one-percent retains in its coffers now. As ostentatiously as conservatives have traditionally lauded “hard work”, when they believed the lauding only applied to them, they are the first now to deride lowly compensated workers, identifying them as “takers” in the Romney/Ryan vernacular,or regarded as rightly condemned to their fate for failing to “do what is necessary to move up.” That this rightist faction of the polity would withhold dignity from those who labor daily, generally at the hardest, most distasteful, most back-breaking jobs there are, is more than despicable: it is immoral, as well as un-American, and frankly, utterly sickening.
Let’s get a few things straight about raising the minimum wage: The old saw that a higher minimum wage produces job loss needs to be packaged into mothballs. Study after study shows this is not the case. States that have raised their minimum wage above the federal level have recorded faster economic growth, small business growth and job growth than states which haven’t, including neighboring states. Raising the minimum wage has been shown to reduce turnover and to increase productivity. Likewise, claims that raising the minimum wage primarily affects fragile small businesses are hooey too. 66% of low wage jobs reside with companies with over 100 employees. The 50 largest employers of low wage workers have recovered from the recession, are highly profitable and in a strong financial position. These companies have distributed 174.8 billion in dividend payments and share buy backs over the last several years. Their top CEO’s earn an average of 9.4 million dollars annually. Similarly fallacious is the assertion that these workers are all simply teenagers only passing through. 80% of these workers are 20 or older. 26% are parents. On average, families with workers affected by the minimum wage rely on those workers for over half (59%) of the families’ total earnings. Nearly half (46%) of all families with an affected worker rely solely on the earnings of those workers. In fact, one in 4 private sector jobs is low wage (less than 10$ an hour). That’s a lot of Americans.
Republican hardening against the minimum wage is similar to its absolutist position against collecting revenue or its hostility to collective bargaining, exemplifying its new extremist demeanor, a party now exclusively an agent of big business and corporations, a tool only for the wealthy…the rest be damned…to 47% hell one presumes. Indeed Republicans ought to wash Ayn Rand stardust out of their eyes and renounce their Austrian School frivolity. Such godforsaken domination of capital over labor, now an utter disregard for and demeaning of labor, isn’t American capitalism: it’s a hideous warping of it. Republican ignorami may often and obliviously tout the wisdom of Father of Economics and Market Capitalism, Adam Smith. It may behoove them to learn that Adam Smith advocated for a minimum wage, as well as progressive income taxes and a safety net, mechanisms today’s Republican radicals relegate to an imaginary communism.
An increase in the minimum wage would provide a great benefit to many individual Americans and be of immeasurable benefit to the economy as a whole. It needs to be raised, and raised now. It’s the least we can do.