I’m for a more stable society and increasing the minimum wage is key to that goal. Everyone should be able to get ahead in America by ‘working hard and playing by the rules.’
I’m a strong supporter of an increase in the minimum wage. I go into that with my eyes wide open. I understand that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, an increase in the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $15.00 would get more people laid off than lifted out of poverty.
So, why do I still think it’s a good idea?
Because the minimum wage increase would do three good things.
First, it would provide a wage increase to no less than 27 million people. Most of these are workers teetering on the edge of poverty. While they might not fall under the official poverty line, they’re people living on the edge and this will give them more security. Security is a good thing as it creates a less volatile society and a more stable political environment. In my mind, that’s a moderate value.
Second, it will lift 900,000 people who currently reside below that official poverty line, above it. Now, of course, it would do that at a cost of about 1.4 million jobs for people who would now be out of work entirely. That can’t be just dismissed as many liberal economists would like. But any minimum wage increase is going to cost some jobs. If you accept this as a reason not to increase it, then that’s an argument for never increasing it. In fact, that’s an argument for abolishing a minimum wage altogether. Which leads to my most important argument.
Third, it’s vital that we make all work worthwhile. I want to live in a society where it is not possible to work full time and still live in poverty. In fact, I want a society where anyone who works full time can be assured that they’ll have a decent place to live, be able to afford good health care, send their kids to quality schools and retire in comfort.
I can’t think of anything that would lead to a more stable, less angry and polarized, society than that. It makes good on Bill Clinton’s wonderfully simple formulation that, “if you work hard and play by the rules” you can earn yourself a good life in America. Right now that promise is unfulfilled for too many Americans. It’s possible to work very hard and follow every rule and still not be able to afford a decent home, health care, a college education for your kids or the promise of any retirement, ever.
And here’s the thing. I’m optimistic that this can get done. Despite the predictable setback for increasing the wage to $15 in President Biden’s Covid relief bill, we may be in the political sweet spot to get it done anyway. That’s because the two parties are passing each other right now on opposing escalators. The Republicans are on the down escalator, just now coming to grips with the reality that their base is no longer country club types but blue collar workers. Meanwhile, the Democrats are on the up escalator, coming to the realization that they are no longer the party of unions and the working class, but the party of college educated elites, who still care about the working class, albeit in the abstract.
You can see this most clearly in the Republican Party, where at least three GOP senators have proposed their own increases in the minimum wage. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) have proposed an increase to $10 an hour, while Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) would go all the way up to $15, but only for major corporations. Just a few years ago, for any Republican to propose an increase in the wage would have been heresy.
For the Democrats’ part, $15 was never in the cards, even if the Senate parliamentarian had not done her job and ruled it out of the budget reconciliation process. That’s because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the second most powerful man in America right now, opposed it. Manchin has said he could support $11.
As it stands, even with Romney, Cotton and Hawley, you’d still need another seven Republicans in the Senate to pass any increase. But what we have here are the elements of a compromise. Something between $10 and $15 an hour applied to some set of businesses is very much a live possibility.
It’s just a question of working out bipartisan compromises on the details. And that’s the moderate way.