Unsurprisingly, the federal minimum wage will not rise this year. Given the widespread realization of inequality in the U.S., however, the issue will not go away.
For one thing, several states will raise their minimum wage this year, including Connecticut and Maryland. A bill to raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour has passed the House and is being considered by the Senate. For another, the Republican opposition to giving a raise to the working poor will be another arrow in the Democrats’ election-year quiver in the fall congressional elections. Other issues Democrats intend to use are Republican opposition to restoring expired benefits for the long-term unemployed and their opposition to measures to get employers to pay men and women equally.
By the vast majority voting on Wednesday not to allow debate to proceed, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill that would have gradually raised the $7.25 hourly minimum to $10.10 over 30 months and then provide automatic annual increases to account for inflation. Democrats said that if fully phased in by 2016, it would lift a family of three above the federal poverty line -- a level such earners have not surpassed since 1979, according to an Associated Press article.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, where an employee is subject to both the federal and state minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage rate.
"Supporters note that the minimum wage’s buying power has fallen. It reached its peak value in 1968, when it was $1.60 hourly but was worth $10.86 in today’s dollars," according to the AP. "Republicans, solidly against the Democratic proposal, say it would be too expensive for employers and cost jobs. As ammunition, they cite a February study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that estimated the increase to $10.10 could eliminate about 500,000 jobs -- but also envisioned higher income for 16.5 million low-earning people."
It’s worth noting that many of those 16.5 million people earning low wages would no longer need to draw on state and federal benefits to survive. So, if the job loss level of 500,000 is accurate -- and the CBO says it could turn out to be higher or lower -- the need for increased government support for these newly unemployed people would be offset by no longer having to support many others.
Make no mistake, when a big-box retail giant or a 50-state fast food chain pays its employees so little that they need food stamps and other government assistance to survive, this is a "corporate welfare" subsidy adding to the corporation’s profits.
As the AP notes, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has been seeking a deal in the Senate for a lower amount increase than $10.10. Her fellow Maine senator, Angus King, an independent who usually votes with the Democrats, said he would favor this, also. However, Sen. Harry Reid, Democratic majority leader, told reporters "We’re not going to compromise on $10.10."
Sen. Reid no doubt wants to hammer Republicans in the fall as the party of poverty wages and government subsidies for big business. We would support a lesser target figure for the minimum wage increase, but we don’t expect a majority of Republicans in the Senate, never mind the more conservative House, to support even this compromise, for ideological reasons.
We’ll let Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have the final word, in a statement he released after the vote that blocked consideration of the minimum wage hike.
"The truth is that the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. While Vermont and other states have raised the minimum wage higher than the national level, it is important that Congress pass a national minimum wage of at least $10.10 an hour," he said. "I am very disappointed, but not surprised, that only one Republican agreed to even consider the legislation."
~ Mark E. Rondeau