ASCH: Don’t believe the fear mongering about raising the minimum wage

State leaders should do the right thing and raise the minimum wage in Virginia

op-retailworker-courtesywikimedia

Workers deserve higher compensation from their employers.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

After the Democrats’ strong showing in the 2017 Virginia general election, many were optimistic that liberal priorities would be addressed. While there are several worthy policy goals which the new administration should pursue, none seem more important or more difficult to pass than an increase in the minimum wage. An increase is essential because the current minimum wage has lost nearly 10 percent of its purchasing power due to inflation. Even though some states have elected to go higher, Virginia has decided to stay at the federal minimum, $7.25 an hour. The resistance to increasing the minimum wage rests on faulty logic, which lawmakers espouse to avoid giving workers a much needed raise. It is essential that lawmakers look at the facts and make the effort to institute a necessary increase in the minimum wage.

One talking point against raising the minimum wage is the theory that with rising wages, there would be a subsequent increase in joblessness. This claim goes against research conducted by the National Employment Law Project, which found that, after seven decades of minimum wage increases, there was no correlation with joblessness rates. The political fact checking site PolitiFact came to a similar conclusion when it fact checked a claim by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson about the correlation between the minimum wage and joblessness. In the article, it stated that though there is a split among economists about the issue, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that increasing the minimum wage has an insignificant effect on the jobless rate. It is unfortunate that in the face of this research, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not yet considered even a modest increase in the state minimum wage. 

Another talking point against minimum wage increases point to problems in liberal cities which have raised their minimum wages up to $15 dollars an hour. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on this topic, asserting that a minimum wage this high leads restaurants to either raise prices in order to pay their workers or close their doors. Though it is true that San Francisco did experience a spate of restaurant closures, an analysis by the East Bay Times showed that restaurants in San Francisco are actually having a hard time finding workers because of the high price of living in the city, causing low wage workers to flee to other areas. This same analysis also showed that an increase in property taxes also contributed to the closure of some of these restaurants. Meanwhile, Seattle, which also raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, is experiencing historically low joblessness numbers. It is clear by looking at these localities that minimum wage increases are not the cause of the problems that some localities, such as San Francisco are experiencing.

While the arguments against the minimum wage may not exactly add up, as billionaire activist Nick Hanuer said, there are many reasons why an increase would be beneficial. The main reason however, is that it can help address the problem of income inequality. Over the past few years addressing income inequality has been a top concern for lawmakers, but unfortunately they have made little progress on the issue. By raising the minimum wage, lawmakers could help lift many workers out of poverty. Addressing income inequality is important because it leads to a loss of economic growth and stability, which are detrimental to the United States economy. It is clear that at its current level, the minimum wage is not doing its job and as a result millions of workers struggle to make ends meet. 

It is appalling that some argue about raising the minimum wage despite the large body of evidence which supports it. We can argue about how raising it too quickly is a problem, but it is one which can be addressed by phasing increases in and having zones for the minimum wage like in Oregon, where expensive urban centers have a higher minimum wage increase than rural areas. 

In an era when average CEO pay is about 300 times what workers are paid, it is important that lawmakers ask themselves whether American workers deserve a raise. In America, it is unacceptable that anyone working full time could be living in poverty. It is not just high school kids working minimum wage jobs, but working families who struggle to raise their children on a meager paycheck. Hopefully, one day the minimum wage will be raised at the national level, but until then we must push our newly elected leaders here in Virginia to increase the minimum wage.

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com

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