Republicans’ Counterproductive Fixation On A Worst-Case Scenario That Never Happens

minimum wage increase

Bread lines: Not since before the minimum wage was created, and probably unlikely to be seen after it goes up. (Image: Library of Congress)

“Conservatives have argued for years that no matter how well-meaning, efforts to increase the minimum wage end up hurting the most vulnerable, those looking to grasp the first rung on the employment ladder,” writes right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post today. And while I, personally, would have just stopped the article right there with a quick note that, of course, those warnings have never actually come to fruition, she, of course, does not.

Rubin goes on to cite the problematic, incorrect, and generally underwhelming conservative, anti-minimum wage economist Mark Perry as a source (at least she’s consistent), and then proceeds to chide Democrats about how “the impact on employment and on the poor, specifically, may be profound” should we keep hammering on about raising wages. Her thesis: That we’re not thinking this through, and that, just as the right has been warning for literally decades, our efforts to increase wages could possibly end in disaster.

And yet, what Rubin never quite manages to get around to is the fact that the]is predicted apocalypse has yet to arrive, and likely never will.

Since its birth, the minimum wage has been drawing concern and outright ire from the right, who have warned of the economic fire and brimstone it will rain down upon us, ensuring that no teen will have a job and that businesses will be forced to shutter more quickly than you can say “trickle-down.”

Truly, the quotes go way back. In case you think I’m exaggerating, here are some:

  • 2006: “If a simple legislative act increasing the minimum wage to $7.75 is all that is needed to improve the lot of the working poor by just a little, then why not raise it to $10 an hour and get them to the poverty level? For that matter, why not raise it to $50 an hour, assuring every working Californian a comfortable living?” — California State Senator Tom McClintock in the Los Angeles Times
  • 1999: “Minimum wage increases that even approach an average livable wage would result in significantly fewer jobs for low-wage workers. A substantial increase in the relative cost of labor will result in a reduction in the amount of labor used.” Thomas Kavet, Deborah Brighton, Douglas Hoffer, and Elaine McCrate in a report delivered to the State Legislature of Vermont
  • 1970: “It is unrealistic to assume that somehow the increase will be squeezed out of profits….In plain fact, the burden of an increased minimum wage will fall heavily on those least able to bear it. The fringe employers, the unskilled worker, the young and the handicapped are those who will be priced out of the job market.” — The Chamber of Commerce
  • 1938: “[The Fair Labor Standards Act] will destroy small industry….[these ideas are] the product of those whose thinking is rooted in an alien philosophy and who are bent upon the destruction of our whole constitutional system and the setting up of a red-labor communistic [sic] despotism upon the ruins of our Christian civilization.” — Representative Edward Cox (D-GA). 1938.

Yes, the scary stories of the right have been spookily whispered in the ears of the working population for decades, allowing plenty of time for these ideas—that a minimum wage that’s actually livable will bankrupt businesses and lead to an explosion of unemployment—to fully marinate and become baked into the the collective understanding of the economy.

The unfortunate thing, though, for the ultra-wealthy who benefit off these ideas (because truly, no one else is) is that they are simply not true, and they don’t hold up.

Take, for example, Washington State—the state with the highest minimum wage in the nation—was recently ranked by Business Insider as having the most robust economy in the country.

“Its Q2 2015 annualized GDP growth rate was a stunning 8.0%, by far the highest among the states and DC. The November 2015 average weekly wage of $1,073 was the second highest in the country, and was 5.6% higher than the weekly wage in November 2014, the third highest wage growth rate,” they explained.

The next highest-ranked was the District of Columbia, which boasts a $9.50 minimum wage. After that was Colorado—also with a minimum wage higher than the Federal level—and then, down at #5 was Nebraska, a state whose “unemployment rate of 2.9% was the second lowest in the country,” and whose minimum wage is also above $7.25.

Does correlation necessarily indicate causality? Of course not. But it’s worth pointing out that economic growth in states with minimum wages above the Federal floor isn’t exactly stagnate. In fact, higher minimum wages actually seem to be spurring job creation and growth.

Which means that the only thing Rubin and I can agree on is her first statement—that Conservatives have been beating this drum for a long, long time.

Hanna Brooks Olsen

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