The GOP has ruthlessly sold the outlandish myth to millions that a hike in the minimum wage is a huge job killer. It has been so effective in its hard sell that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have repeatedly been stymied and frustrated in every effort they've made to boost the minimum wage nationally. Almost certainly Obama in his State of the Union Address later this month will again demand that Congress, meaning House and Senate Republicans, immediately raise the minimum wage. Some states have hiked the old, archaic, and pitifully low standard minimum wage from $7.25 to a double digit figure that faintly resembles a living wage. The current federal minimum wage amounts to slightly more than $15,000 in annual income. That's not even close to the amount needed to keep a family of four out of the soup lines. You'd have to go back more than four decades to 1968 to find the last year that the minimum wage actually kept pace with inflation for workers.
House Speaker John Boehner in a pithy, horribly simplistic, but effectual retort to the cry for a minimum wage increase said "When you raise the price of employment, you get less of it." Boehner and Congressional Republicans cherry pick a few dated studies and some anecdotal employment figures in some law wage states such as North Dakota with low unemployment to make the case that the minimum wage hurts the economy. At first, glance, that seems compelling enough. But that ignores other low wage states that have boosted the minimum wage and there's been no plunge in employment, or wholesale flight of employers from the states to low wage states that won't boost their minimum wage a penny higher than the federal minimum wage.
Boehner also ignores recent studies that found that states that have boosted their minimum wage have not had a plunge in hiring. It doesn't take a course in Economics 101 to figure out that employers increase production and sales when there's demand. Demand increases when workers have enough cash in their pockets to buy more goods and services. It also doesn't take a seat in the same Econ class to know that lower job turnover boosts productivity and reduces business costs. This adds tens of billions more to the economy which translates out to job growth.
So studies overwhelmingly back up a huge bump up to the economy from a decent minimum wage. Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans support a minimum wage hike, and that includes a significant number of Republicans. Yet, the GOP despite its unpopular, bogus argument against a minimum wage increase has still managed to get its way. It comes down to two things. One is the millions that buy the notion that a minimum wage hike is a bad thing. This belief is based in part on blind adherence to Republican dogma, in part on kneejerk opposition to anything that Obama and the Democrats propose, just as reflexive knee jerk opposition to labor unions that have traditionally been in the forefront of the fight for a minimum wage hikes, as well as the legitimate fear that business owners will simply pass along any wage increase to consumers by boosting prices on goods.
The other reason for formidable resistance to a minimum wage boost that lurks just beneath the surface is who many perceive the boost will help. They are the poor. When the minimum wage is fixated as a sop to the poor, even the working poor, the issue gets muddled, and becomes a political flash point issue. With few exceptions, in years past, talk of poverty was not just missing from the nation's political plate, but was a dirty word. The existence of millions of poor in America flew in the face of the embedded laissez faire notion that the poor aren't poor because of the hyper concentration of wealth, or worse, any failing of the system, but because of their personal failings. Surveys bore this out. Even many among the poor were as apt as many of those in the middle-class, and the well-to-do, to self-debase themselves for their poverty. They blame it on their misfortune, bad luck, lack of education and skills, or alcohol, and drug problems. These are certainly reasons why some fall into poverty or remain chronically poor. They, however, are at best peripheral to the real cause of the poverty rise, and that's the control by a relatively handful of the bulk of the nation's income, resources and productive wealth.
A minimum wage increase would in very limited part redress the grotesque income inequality between rich and poor. And it's that fear of big and small business and the rich that GOP is the designated mouthpiece for that insures it will dig its heels in and continue to wage a furious fight against Obama's call for a minimum wage increase. That means continuing to peddle hard the myth it's a job killer.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.