THE BLOG

Minimum Wage, Minimum Age: Republicans Continue to Fight

08/04/2014 05:34 pm ET | Updated Oct 04, 2014

The media, Congress and American workers are talking about raising the minimum wage nationally. So why hasn't an increase been passed? Who opposes raising the minimum wage? Not average Americans. Not even most Republicans.

The answer: Republicans in Congress.

As Republican members of Congress continue to block raising the minimum wage, nearly seven in 10 average Republicans don't believe they themselves, could live on $7.25 per hour; yet, only about a third support raising it to $10.10. Working fulltime, 52 weeks a year would only yielded $15,080 for minimum wage earners. In a new poll by the Public Policy Polling, just 20 percent of voters thought they could support their home on the minimum wage, with 75 percent saying it would not be enough. (1)

For the last two years, fast food workers who sought higher wages carried out local strikes and planned a global strike that took place on May 15, 2014. These walkouts affected thousands of restaurants in more than 30 countries. The workers' chief complaint was that CEOs of fast food chains are raking in huge profits while paying them only a pittance. (2) Why don't American consumers demand profitable companies pay their workers reasonable wages?

I think most people assume that minimum wage workers are primarily teenagers...but, that's a myth. Eighty-eight percent of minimum wage workers are at least 20 years old, and one-third are age 40 or older. One-fifth of all U.S. children have a parent who earns a minimum wage. Altogether, over 30 million Americans struggle with the minimum wage, cannot afford fresh food for their children, or pay their mortgages.

Last year in Canton, Ohio, the Walmart staff held a food drive - for its own employees. They actually asked for donations from customers so that the minimum wage earners at Walmart, who earn $7.85 an hour under Ohio law, could provide a Thanksgiving dinner to their children. (3)

Many conservative Republican members of Congress, however, favor a policy of letting the free market establish wages, and some maintain there should be no minimum wage at all, no labor unions and no paid overtime. In addition to minimum wage discussions, Congressional Republicans, under the guise of their anti-regulatory movement are also working to diminish long-standing child labor laws.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets wages, hours worked, and safety requirements for minors (individuals under age 18) working in jobs covered by the statute. The rules vary depending upon the particular age of the minor and the particular job involved. As a general rule, the FLSA sets 14 years of age as the minimum age for employment, and limits the number of hours worked by minors under the age of 16. There are exceptions for some industries including working for parents, in agriculture, as actors and in newspaper delivery.(4)

Without the FLSA, corporations would have a dispensable and cheap labor force available to them. But, what would protect the children? How could we ensure corporations wouldn't turn back the clock to slave labor?

Recently, The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report stated that children, as young as 7 years old, are working long hours under hazardous conditions in tobacco fields harvesting nicotine and pesticide-laced tobacco leaves. (5) While they are too young to buy the product, according to some's actions, they obviously aren't too young to work in the toxic fields.

The HRW is pushing the federal government to take steps to protect children working on tobacco farms in the states of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Dismantling policies that protect workers make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Yet Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Joe Barton persist in voting to help big business rather than low wage workers. The Republican Senate candidates in North Carolina and Iowa, along with other red states, have made abolishing the minimum wage a mainstay of their campaigns. These candidates are counting on the Koch Brothers' money to buy their Senate seats. If Republicans continue to gain strength and win elected office, I think it is just a matter of time before all Americans will be earning slave wages. These austere wage policies spawn citizens who must rely on the government for help, rather than be independent taxpayers as Republicans say they want. (6)

Minimum wage and minimum age laws don't undermine free capitalism. In contrast to the Republicans' call for lower wages, more money in the hands of the poor, spurs economic growth. That's just a basic economic fact Republicans have yet to embrace.

1 Poll: Republicans couldn't live on minimum wage --- but fight raising it, Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner, July 21, 2014, http://washingtonexaminer.com/poll-republicans-couldnt-live-on-minimum-wage-but-fight-raising-it/article/2551101
2 Fast food worker protest over wage increase spreads to 30 countries, The Associated Press, ABC News, May 15, 2014, http://www.wjla.com/articles/2014/05/fast-food-worker-protest-over-wage-increase-spreads-to-30-countries-103168.html
3 The Republican Case for a Minimum Wage Increase: There are several conservative reasons for supporting a minimum wage hike, U.S. News, Carrie Wofford, Jan. 27, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/carrie-wofford/2014/01/27/why-republicans-should-support-a-minimum-wage-increase
4 U.S. Department of Labor, Youth & Labor, http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/youthlabor/exemptionsFLSA.htm
5 Republicans Bring Back Child Labor On Tobacco Farms In The South, Rmuse, Politicus usa, May 16, 2014, http://www.politicususa.com/2014/05/16/republicans-bring-child-labor-tobacco-farms-south.htm
6 Republicans Dream of a Nation of Wage Slaves After Obama Changes Overtime Pay Rules, rmuse, Politicususa.com, March 15, 2014, http://www.politicususa.com/2014/03/15/republicans-dream-nation-wage-slaves-obama-overtime-pay-rules.html