Last week, Americans enjoyed a three-day weekend in honor of the country's working class and their contributions to our nation. Many people fired up barbeques while President Obama tried to light a fire of support for raising the federal minimum wage, saying that "America deserves a raise."
The President's address came just a few days before Michigan's increased minimum wage took effect on September 1. Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation back in May that would raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour by 2018. Last week was the first in a number of gradual increases that raised the wage from $7.40 to $8.15 an hour. Michigan joins 13 other states that have raised wages in 2014, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, and others. The minimum wage debate continues to sweep across other states and be both applauded as a measure that will expand the pillar of the middle class and criticized as economic folly that will eliminate jobs and actually hurt the low-wage workers it aims to help.
President Obama has pushed for a federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour; however, Congress has shelved the initiative and it is unlikely that any legislation to raise the federal wage will be passed in the near future. But the heated debate still makes headlines as states and cities raise minimum wage requirements. In 2014, 38 states introduced some kind of minimum wage bill (National Conference of State Legislatures, 9/2/14).
Arguments advocating and condemning a higher federal wage all focus on one thing: the economy. Will employers cut jobs because of the higher cost of paying workers? Or will a higher wage mean increased spending and a boosted economy?
Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report that predicted that if the federal wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, the economy would lose 500,000 jobs (Congressional Budget Office, 02/2014). Opponents of this increase point to what happened in 2009, when the minimum wage was raised and the economy lost 600,000 jobs in the following six months - even while the economy was growing at 4%. When jobs are eliminated, low-skilled workers are more adversely affected, as their jobs are the ones lost and they have a harder time finding employment.
On the other hand, proponents of raising the wage argue that those states who introduced higher minimum wages in 2014 have actually added jobs at a faster growth rate than those who did not. The 13 states who boosted wages added jobs at 0.85%, while those states that did not raise their minimum wages grew at a rate of only 0.61%.
Will it help or hurt the economy?
Although the federal wage was raised in 2009, advocates of raising the wage again point out that inflation has eaten away at the previous bump's real value, which has slipped back to where it was in 1998. Additionally, a wage hike to $10.10 would lift workers out of poverty. The CBO predicts that 900,000 workers would be lifted above the poverty line and wages would be increased for 16.5 million workers. Other research forecasts even more positive expectations, estimating that 4.6 million people would be lifted out of poverty (Minimum Wages and the Distribution of Family Incomes," 12/2013). Critics are quick to point out that raising 900,000 out of poverty out of a total of 45 million does little solve the problem of poverty as a whole.
Furthermore, raising the wage will act as a stimulus and boost consumer spending, according to supporters. Opponents counter that any money used to increase wages must be passed on either to the business, resulting in lost jobs, or to the customer, resulting in higher prices. Additionally, there are no guarantees that an increase in wages would go directly into the economy or toward businesses.
Politicians, businesses, and other leaders have been drawn into the battle surrounding the minimum wage. Recently, Gap Inc.'s CEO Glenn Murphy decided to raise the wage for 65,000 of its workers to $10 an hour by June 2015. Murphy said that the move was not political or tied to any side of the debate but was motivated by Gap's commitment to "invest in front-line employees." Regardless of whether the company wanted to join the national discussion, they are now part of it; President Obama applauded the company and urged other businesses to use them as an example and work to raise wages for their employees in the absence of a higher federal wage.
Readers, do you think the federal minimum wage should be raised?