A minimum wage boost has broad public support

A minimum wage boost has broad public support

March 15th, 2013 in Opinion Times

It's ironic that debates are forming on the pro and con sides of raising the minimum wage at the same time that the Dow Jones industrial average is recording its longest winning streak since 1996.

In fact when the index rose for the 10th day in a row Wednesday, it became only the fourth time in history for such a bullish run. Remember, too, that the Dow broke through its previous all-time high on March 5th, and it has kept on going.

But to hear conservatives tell it, President Obama's recent proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour would be bad for business.

"In the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty," Obama said in announcing the proposal during his State of the Union address.

America has 75.3 million workers who are paid hourly rates, and only 3.6 million of them -- about 4.7 percent -- earn at or below the federal minimum wage.

Here's what they looked like in 2012:

• Half are young -- under 25 -- and a fifth of those are teens.

• Six percent of all women paid hourly had wages at or below minimum, compared with about 3 percent of men.

• Five percent of white, black, and Hispanic hourly paid workers earned min- imum wage or less, while 3 percent of hourly-paid Asian workers earned the minimum wage or less.

• About 60 percent of workers earning the minimum wage or less were employed in service occupations, mostly in food preparation and serving.

• An estimated 2.1 percent of all salaried workers earned exactly minimum wage, while 2.65 percent earned less than minimum wage

• About 196,000 minimum-wage-and-below earners lived and worked in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

Congress hasn't raised the minimum wage since 2009, and if the local delegations of Tennessee and Georgia's congressmen have their way, things may not change despite the fact that more than 70 percent of Americans support the proposed increase, according to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll.

Among Republican poll respondents, 50 percent said they back Obama's measure, and 47 percent oppose it.

Our GOP lawmakers say they are looking out for business: They see the move as an impediment to employers and economic growth.

You know, that poor sky-rocketing Dow ...

"You hurt the people you're trying to help," U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., told the Times Free Press last week. "As you raise the wage level, you reduce the number of individuals that employers can hire through expansion."

And Tennessee's U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander pulled out the specter of decreasing jobs.

"Minimum-wage mandates knock people off the economic ladder because they destroy jobs for low-income, largely minority young people such as those who work in restaurants," he said. "Getting one of those jobs is a good way to get started."

Or it could just be that keeping that entry wage low is a way of government subsidizing -- with rent assistance and food stamps to people who are underpaid -- the restaurant industry and other minimum-wage paying businesses.

One conservative argument against raising the minimum wage is that expanding the earned income tax credit is a better way to steer money to low-income households.

That would be an argument worth entertaining if this were a perfect world. But we don't live in a perfect world.

We can see that every time hear the newest comments of the day from Congress as they mouth out their squabbles over the sequester versus new revenue.

By the way, that new revenue would come by eliminating tax breaks for the rich.

And the Dow is up.