Fighting Against The Minimum Wage-- More Than A Republican Tradition, A Republican Obsession
When my job as president of a division of TimeWarner brought me into contact with what the Republicans call "the job creators," it was never difficult to talk with my colleagues about why raising the minimum wage was good for "us." Unlike many of my colleagues, I had started my own successful small business from scratch and was considered "entrepreneurial." A simplistic version: if consumers have more money in their pockets they can buy more of our stuff and we'll make more profit.
Historically, though, it's always been progressives who supported minimum wage laws and it's always been conservatives who have opposed them. Conservatives have always claimed, crocodile tears streaming down their chubby cheeks, that minimum wage laws increase unemployment, even though over a century of minimum wage laws-- the first one was in New Zealand in 1894-- clearly show that has never been the case. When the first U.S. minimum wage was established in 1933-- Republicans screeching, rending their garments and predicting the end of... whatever-- a very right-wing Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. Democrats passed one again (25 cents per hour) in 1938 and Republicans have been fighting it ever since. You might be interested in knowing that, by buying power, the best the minimum wage has ever been was in 1968, when it was $1.60/hour ($10.64 in 2012 dollars. Today the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour, a horrifying cut since '68. The best it is in any other jurisdiction is Washington, DC ($9.19), although a handful of progressive (and prosperous) states-- Vermont, California, Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts-- have rates significantly higher than the federal rate.
President Obama and progressives would like to focus on restoring the purchasing power for a family dependent on a minimum wage job to the 1968 level, setting a target of around $10 an hour for 2015 or 2016. (If increases in the minimum wage had kept pace with increased productivity since 1968, the minimum wage now wouldn't be $10/hour; it would be closer to $17, more of a living wage.) Despite all the chit chat about how the Republicans want to change their image-- and despite the fact raising it is popular among working people in red states, among the Latino voters the GOP is half-heartedly courting and among all those "working class neighbors" of Marco Rubio's from his rebuttal SOTU Tuesday night-- Boehner had a knee-jerk right-wing reaction against it:
“I've been dealing with the minimum wage issue for the last 28 years that I've been in elected office. And when you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it. At a time when Americans are still asking the question 'Where are the jobs?' why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people? Listen, I've got 11 brothers and sisters on every rung of the economic ladder. I know about this issue as much as anybody in this town. And what happens when you take away the first couple of rungs on the economic ladder-- you make it harder for people to get on the ladder. Our goal is to get people on the ladder and help them climb that ladder so they can live the American dream. And a lot of people who are being the paid minimum wage are being paid that because they come to the workforce with no skills. And this makes it harder for them to acquire the skills they need in order to climb that ladder successfully.”The conservative stand against the minimum wage hasn't changed-- not a word-- since they tried preventing it in 1933 and 1938 and ever since. Same exact tired, misleading arguments. And what, exactly, do Boehner and his cronies propose to help "get people on the ladder and help them climb that ladder so they can live the American dream?" He didn't mention.
Florida Democrat, Nick Ruiz, who's running against one of those Boehner cronies next year, John Mica, is a professor who's been writing about this topic for years. Last night he told me that "Boehnor's role as the quintessential corporate shill is now crystallized for all eternity, now that he (like John Mica (R-FL), have spit directly in the eye of every man, woman and child in America... They've both voted against minimum wages increases-- repeatedly. These are repeat offenders against the American people. Nothing is more essential to a healthy America and her socioeconomic stability than a strong minimum wage floor, below which no one should fall. The past 50 years of corporate and congressional minimum wage suppression is the number one reason Americans cannot get ahead. The minimum wage should be doubled and tethered to the Consumer Price Index-- and I would work on a bill in my first term in Congress to do exactly that."
If you'd like to give Nick's chances of ousting Mica a boost, you can do it here.