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A Minimum Wage Increase Will Not Kill Jobs

As the nation grapples with a jobs crisis and unemployment hovers near 9 percent, it is easy for policy makers to forget the plight of those who work but earn very little. There are about 4.4 million workers earning the minimum wage or less, according to government statistics. This amounts to about 6 percent of workers paid by the hour. They need a raise.

Today, a worker laboring 40 hours a week nonstop throughout the year for the federal minimum wage could barely keep a family of two above the federal poverty line. Though it rose to $7.25 an hour in 2009, up $2.10 since 2006, the minimum wage is still lower than it was 30 years ago, after accounting for inflation. It amounts to about $1.50 an hour less, in today’s money, than it did in 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were killed, Richard Nixon was elected president and the economy was less than a third of its present size.

The minimum wage has many opponents among big business and Congressional Republicans. In Nevada, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is pushing to repeal the state’s minimum wage, a whopping $8.25 an hour. Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican, has proposed a bill in the House that would effectively cut the minimum wage in states where it was higher than the federal threshold by allowing employers to count health benefits toward wages.

Opponents argue that raising the minimum wage would inevitably lead to higher unemployment, prompting companies to cut jobs and decamp to cheaper labor markets. It is particularly bad, the argument goes, to raise it in a weak labor market. Yet with unemployment likely to remain painfully high for years to come, this argument amounts to a promise that the working poor will remain poor for a long time.

What’s more, we know now that the argument is grossly overstated. Over the past 15 years, states and cities around the country have rushed ahead of the federal government to impose higher minimum wages. Economists analyzing the impact of the increases on jobs have concluded that moderate increases have no discernible impact on joblessness. Employers did not rush off to cheaper labor markets in the suburbs or across state lines for a simple reason: that costs money too.

The most recent research, by John Schmitt and David Rosnick at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, found that San Francisco’s minimum wage jump to $8.50 in 2004 — well above the state minimum of $6.75 — improved low-wage workers’ incomes and did not kill jobs. An even bigger jump in Santa Fe, N.M., the same year — from $5.15 to $8.50 — had a similar effect.

Despite evidence to the contrary, businesses and Republicans may keep pushing against the minimum wage — using the jobs crisis now to clinch their argument. They should be disregarded, because their argument is wrong and the United States is too rich to tolerate such an underclass.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, March 25, 2011

March 26, 2011 - Posted by | Big Business, Congress, Conservatives, Economy, Income Gap, Jobs, Middle East, Minimum Wage, Politics, Republicans, States, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Unemployed | , , , , ,

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