Over the past year there has been a lot of public discourse and media coverage regarding potential changes in the federal and state minimum wage rates.
Advocates for an increase argue that this will pull millions of Americans out of poverty and give them more purchasing power. Opponents insist an increase will cost jobs.
A CBO report on the topic gave credence to both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, rather than having any meaningful discussions about what rate would maximize earnings for low income workers while limiting job losses, we are stuck with rhetorical political talking points designed to manipulate low information voters.
My colleagues at The Detroit News have written multiple articles over the past few months implying that those who support a increase in the minimum wage would live to regret their decision. The examples cited most often suggest that were it not for minimum wage increases over the years, millions more Americans would have been gainfully employed as gas station attendants and bank tellers.
The problem is that while this may sound true there is no evidence that the minimum wage was responsible for the demise of these professions.
The first self-service gas station in the U.S. began operating in 1947 -- a full 9 years after the first minimum wage. It then took another 30 years for self service gas stations to take over the majority of the market. The loss of full service fuel stations correlates far more with the sharp rise in fuel prices in the '70s than any of the 11 increases in minimum wage over these three decades.
Some 30 years after the first Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) there are still over half a million bank tellers with the number expected to increase over the next decade. Additionally, the trend doesn't show ATMs cutting into teller employment in any meaningful fashion.
These attempts to scare low-wage earners into supporting a policy that is against their own best interests in nothing new. The main rallying cry for the pretend "War on Coal" is that it will cost jobs. Never mind that the real threat to coal jobs comes from other energy sources and not government regulations -- this is a meme coal corporations and conservative media sources continue to push.
This also requires that people believe that there is a finite number of jobs -- an idea which has been proven a fallacy. The automobile may have put horse carriage makers out of work but it created a many new jobs. Portable GPS units may have put many map makers out of business, but that doesn't mean there was a net loss of jobs. The Internet certainly has had a negative impact on traditional newspapers, however few would argue that in the end the internet means fewer American jobs.
The rise of the U.S. was very much tied to innovation and creation. This conservative propensity of arguing for antiquated occupations to save menial jobs instead of embracing the sort of change that made the U.S. the world power it is today is dangerous.
Our infatuation with coal jobs has put us a distant second behind China when it comes renewable energy products. Data shows that from 2012 to 2013 renewable energy added nearly 1 million jobs, while coal mining only employs around 80,000 workers and saw a drop of 8.3%.
Innovation in renewables isn't the only area where the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world. The U.S. has the world's 8th fastest Internet speeds, behind countries like South Korea, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. The U.S. also trails more than 20 other countries when it comes to the percentage of the population with Internet access. This mediocre performance is detrimental to American companies and costs us jobs.
One imagines most Americans would prefer to lead the world in the jobs of the future instead of the jobs of the past.
Focusing on here-and-now job losses completely misses the point. The idea is to make sure that everyone that has a job can survive on what they make. Replacing low wage, low skill jobs with technology and the higher skill, higher wage jobs required to manufacturer and maintain that technology is a good thing.
Corporate profits are at an all-time high, as are the wages of the top 1%. What advocates of a minimum wage hike are asking is that the employees who are producing at record levels get a share of the additional profits they are creating.
If companies are too greedy to spread the wealth, they shouldn't be surprised when employees use the power of the people to force a change.
Ironically, the tax cuts, which Republicans have championed for years, are based on the same principle as increases in the minimum wage.
The idea behind both of these policies is to put more money in the hands of the people who earn it because they will spend it -- creating economic activity and more jobs.
Republicans certainly had no qualms with the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs as a result of their tax cuts, so their sudden concern over the potential outcome of any minimum wage increase seems disingenuous.
The reality is that opponents of a minimum wage hike are not looking to give poor Americans an opportunity to work their way up the corporate ladder. They are trying to protect the per share earnings of stockholders and the greed of the Supreme Court sanctioned corporate "people" by locking less privileged Americans in to dead-end jobs.
Because that is the best way to win elections and turn the U.S. into the conservative utopia that the Founding Fathers clearly envisioned.