Majority of Americans favor raising minimum wage, but only lukewarm reception from lawmakers

More than 7 out of 10 of us support raising the minimum wage, but proposals to do that got lukewarm receptions by Peoria lawmakers and the GOP in general.

A recent Pew Research poll showed that 71% of Americans favor raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, so it’s not ridiculous to think those elected to represent the people would at least consider plans by President Obama and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

In Obama’s State of the Union address, he called for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour and tying it to the Consumer Price Index so it would keep pace with inflation as the economy improves.

Quinn in his State of the State speech advocated raising the minimum wage from the state’s $8.25 level to $10.

“They’re putting in long hours,” Quinn said of minimum-wage workers. “Yet in too many instances, they are living in poverty. That’s not fair.”

Fair or not, raising the minimum wage could adversely affect business and the economy, say two local legislators.

State Rep. Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) said the state’s minimum wage already is $1 higher than the federal requirement, which puts Illinois at a “disadvantage” to other states.

State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) said he was “conflicted” when it came to the raise.

“There are some issues we need to grapple with,” Koehler told the Canton Daily Ledger, noting that it could be unwise to raise the minimum wage now if it would “further compound” issues facing a still-recovering economy.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) told the McDonough Voice that he was generally opposed to the raise because such an increase would hinder economic growth. It’s a starting wage, Schock said.

That comment echoed through GOP circles nationally, as top Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) immediately opposed the idea, using similar talking points.

“You end up costing jobs from people who are the bottom rung of the economic ladder,” Ryan said, “from those who are just trying to get entry-level jobs. History is very clear about this.”

Rubio repeated that assertion, adding that, “We have a lot of history to prove that raising the minimum wage does not grow the middle class.”

The wisdom of giving a raise to minimum-wage workers – many of whom are neither teens nor new to the labor force – is self-evident, according to progressive Robert Reich.

“Raising the minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 an hour to $9 should be a no-brainer,” said the economist and former Labor Secretary, adding that putting more money in the pockets of the country’s lowest earners is not only fair, it also would boost the economy.

“Fifteen million workers would get a pay raise, allowing them to buy more – and thereby keeping others working,” he said.

(Reich’s video explaining the good sense of raising the minimum wage is two and a half minutes and articulate – Furthermore, “history” doesn’t back Ryan and Rubio fears about employment reduction and inflation, which are contradicted by studies showing that raising the minimum wage has little impact on job creation.

Opponents’ claims that a minimum-wage raise would force businesses to lay off workers, cut employees’ hours, increase the costs of goods or services, or reduce the quality of products haven’t been proven. Studies from 2004, 2006 and 2008 by Sara Lemos from the University of Leicaster Economics Department show that an increase in minimum wage doesn’t significantly increase costs of goods to consumers, and as far as inflation, a higher minimum wage was found to have an effect of less than 1/2 of 1 percent.

Further, a November 2010 study of the minimum wage by economists David Card and Alan Krueger found “no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen.”

Similar research in 2011 “found no impact on hours worked or employment levels,”] and a February 2013 study by John Schmitt of the Center for Economic Policy and Research found that employers apparently deal with an increased minimum wage by accepting lower profits or reducing the salaries of higher-paid workers, which indicate a reallocation of resources. In fact, there’s more proof that increasing the minimum wage results in greater worker productivity and less employee turnover, which are beneficial for companies.

Plus, where are similar outcries about the risk to entry-level jobs or the possibility of rising prices when companies pay CEOs exorbitant salaries or give upper management huge bonuses?

They’re as absent as compromise in Washington in a hyper-politicized time. If Obama suggests something, Tea Party Republicans and the part of the GOP bullied by such extremism oppose it. Period.

After all, when George W. Bush was president, 82 of 202 House Republicans voted for the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour – including then-U.S. Reps. Mark Kirk and Ray LaHood. The Senate’s bipartisan support was even more lop-sided, its 94-3 vote opposed by just three Republicans (three Senators didn’t vote, including two Democrats).

The idea isn’t radical, said Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. “Even most liberal economists would, I suspect, agree that setting a minimum wage of, say, $20 an hour would create a lot of problems,” Krugman said. “But that’s not what’s on the table. And there are strong reasons to believe that the kind of minimum-wage increase the president is proposing would have overwhelmingly positive effects.”

Economists say it would support working people and their families; introduce $60 billion into the economy; benefit taxpayers because these workers would be less dependent on social services; and would show everyday Americans that government is as concerned about them as it is about wealthy people who contribute to political campaigns.

Bill Knight

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