In my inaugural column, on August 22nd, for the newly re-launched The West End News, I addressed the need for a higher minimum wage—in Maine and nationwide. What I did not touch on however, are the myriad reasons conservatives (and some liberals) give for opposing any sort of minimum wage increase.
The minute the topic of the minimum wage is brought up in political discussions, the right immediately starts screaming about “Jobs!”, “Inflation!” and the proverbial “Small Business!”
Yet opponents of a higher minimum wage rely on empty rhetoric and unsubstantiated talking points in their arguments. In fact, all of the right’s major arguments against increasing the minimum wage have been largely debunked.
The following are the right’s three most common arguments against raising the minimum wage and why they are hogwash.
1) “Raising the minimum wage kills jobs.” The basic argument here is that employers would respond to any hike in the minimum wage by reducing workers’ hours, or laying-off employees.
Yet most economic research finds the minimum wage has little to no discernible impact on employment. One such study, from the Chicago Federal Reserve, finds that every one dollar increase in the hourly pay of minimum wage workers results, on average, in $2,800 in new spending from those workers’ households. This puts more money in the overall economy, which, in turn, leads to more jobs.
In fact, according to a Department of Labor report from July, the 13 states that raised the minimum wage at the start of 2014—Florida, Vermont, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon and Washington—saw greater job growth than those that did not.
In other words, raising the minimum wage is not a “job killer”— it is a job creator.
2) “Only teenagers work minimum wage jobs. They are only meant to be ‘starter’ jobs to give young people work experience.”
This may have been true 30 years ago when the United States had a robust and thriving economy. But in our post-globalization/post-NAFTA/post-Great Recession world, the jobs with any anticipated growth are almost exclusively in the retail or service sector. For many recent college graduates, jobs in retail or fast-food are the only ones available.
As a result, the face of the typical fast-food worker has changed. The average age of a fast-food worker, according to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project, is 29. More than 26 percent of fast-food workers, according to the report, have children and subsist on poverty wages. To claim that minimum wage jobs are somehow not “real” jobs or are only meant for teenagers, not only flies in the face of the changing nature of the American workforce, but also smacks of classicist arrogance.
3) “Raising the minimum wage hurts small businesses.”
This is probably the most misleading of conservatives’ stock arguments against a higher minimum wage. No doubt, there likely are a handful of small business owners for whom a higher minimum wage would represent a legitimate financial burden.
But the keyword here is “handful.”
The fact is the majority of Americans do not work for a small business. They work for Walmart, McDonald’s, and Yum Brands! (the parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC), the top three employers nationally. The list of top employers in Maine differs only slightly, with Hannaford, Walmart, L.L. Bean, Unum Provident, and Bath Iron Works among the top-10.
As such the “small business” argument is something of a red-herring.
Incidentally, if penny-pinching conservatives are serious about decreasing the number of people on welfare and so-called “entitlement” programs, then they should support a higher minimum wage. If minimum-wage workers made a decent salary to begin with, they would have less need for these supplemental programs to make ends meet.
Indeed, the right’s overall opposition to increasing the minimum wage seems to represent a glaring ideological contradiction.
No matter how you look at it, there is simply no compelling, credible argument against giving minimum wage workers a raise here in Portland and beyond.
Adam Marletta is a writer, activist, and frequent employer of the Oxford Comma. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.