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Typical reasons as to why we should increase the minimum wage include boosting the economy and reducing the overall poverty level. Raising the minimum wage is even popular with a majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation. Those reasons should be enough justification to make it happen...

...But they aren't enough, are they? Despite some victories here and there, we see slow or no change because there are certain interests who, for fiscal and/or ideological reasons, will never accept evidence contradicting what they think they already know. They will not believe that paying people a livable wage is a good thing for everyone and does not impact employment or the economy in a greatly negative manner.

Combine that with the reality of our political system; too divided and dysfunctional, unable to do anything that's considered controversial, even if said controversy is mostly imagined or fabricated to push back against necessary and good changes in policy....and we don't have a single shared source of truth in our media who either can or is willing to judge the veracity of an argument and no mutually-respected leaders who can give the nation the 'come to Jesus' talk we need in order to get our collective head on straight.

That's all a recipe for minor or no action and a means to preserve the status quo just a little while longer so the quarterly earnings report is positive and executive management can make their bonuses larger and stock more valuable before cashing out. Such inaction satisfies the small-c conservative impulse to both preserve wealth and hinder change until reality's ticking clock dictates otherwise.

So, given that tendency toward inertia, what makes an increase to the minimum wage inevitable?

I'll explain below the fold.

I think that there are two answers to that question.

The ugly answer is that a minimum wage increase acts as a short-term pallative* for the economically disadvantaged. An easing of pain, but not a cure. In order to maintain control over a non-affluent underclass who has grown increasingly frustrated with their economic circumstances, bones will inevitably be thrown...and a raise in the minimum wage to $9 or $10 an hour is, ultimately, a small bone to throw. It's small because the also-inevitable-and-subsequent price increases can be blamed on said raising of the minimum wage. It weakens other calls to action regarding economic fairness and reinforces class distinctions (and disunity) already in place.

We've all seen the right's reactions to the Affordable Care Act; it's considered crazy to discuss expanding Medicare or Social Security and Obamacare is just a handout to 'the 47% of takers' that are a drag on society. Ugly, dismissive sentiments about what is the lesser of the available options for necessary change. Better to make a mild concession and then throw distractions around than risk a wider, unified revolution in thought and deed that changes the way Americans do business and affects personal and corporate profitability. The bank bailout or the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act can be viewed along similar lines.

Just enough gets done to placate the general public and get things limping along again before continuing business as usual. The granting of these sort of mild concessions to prevent disruption to the economic or social status quo isn't a new concept, mind you. It's as American as apple pie:

Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality.
Simply put, a raise to the minimum wage is inevitable because it is an effective tool for manipulating the public. Raising the minimum wage alone* isn't enough to fix poverty in America, even if it will ease the pain for a while.

The not-ugly reason is that we are being slowly driven towards making a serious change in our approach to economic fairness. As income disparity rises and economic security shrinks for most Americans, it serves as a driver of change. That ticking clock becomes louder and more insistent. More inevitable.

There are historical precedents for this type of movement-style change. The labor and suffrage movements of the first part of the previous century and push for civil rights in the middle part where radical - for their time - changes resulted from widespread demonstrations of public unrest...only with those sustained movements, doing the minimum was no longer possible and there was no bone small enough to throw. The downside is that these progressive gains were sometimes centuries in the making. You can even argue that the unrest occurring now is a continuation of the workers' strikes of the 1930's. The causes of that unrest, economic fairness and civil rights, are not much different today.

Call it the 'Arc of the Moral Universe' argument. The day will come, justice is inevitable, don't give up. Movement-style change is usually a very long effort that can experience multiple setbacks, but that clock keeps ticking louder with each crisis.

So keep pushing for that minimum wage increase. Make it inevitable sooner...but don't accept that as the end goal, only as one of the many things we need to do to change how we define what makes our national economy healthy and inclusive of all citizens.

* To me, the only argument that counters raising the minimum wage is that any increase will be likely absorbed into the generally rising cost of things by the time it's adopted, much like easier credit contributed to the housing bubble and federal subsidization contributes to the high cost of education. Note that this is not an argument against raising the minimum wage generally, only against raising the minimum wage without other, greater reforms.

An idea would be to have a cost-of-living-indexed minimum wage and a revision of business tax regulations to increase taxation on employees paid the minimum with declining rates for paying more than the minimum. The rate decline would be the inverse of the amount paid the employee...as wages go up, the amount in tax goes down. The justification for the increase in taxation would be that low-pay employees lean more heavily on public services funded by public monies, so employers unwilling to pay livable wages should be contributing more to the public coffers.

And no, I haven't worked out the detail on this. I can see a move to fewer, higher-paid employees which would have the undesirable effect of increasing unemployment...but there are ways to deal with that as well. As I'm saying, this would be just once piece of an larger effort.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN

    "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

    by grape crush on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 07:11:17 AM PST

  •  'Just enough' politics. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grape crush

    Which are then declared great victories for Dems, despite not usually changing much fundamentally, but merely 'easing the pain' enough so that restive lower classes do not, indeed, revolt openly.

    Bread and circuses, a fine political tradition for millenia.

  •  Majority of Teabaggers support a higher wage (0+ / 0-)

    heard it this morning on the TV...so a winning issue

    "The poor can never be made to suffer enough." Jimmy Breslin

    by merrywidow on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 07:29:32 AM PST

  •  Well if you want to talk about actual facts, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, VClib

    It all depends on how much of an increase you are talking about.  

    For example, you say this:

    They will not believe that paying people a livable wage is a good thing for everyone and does not impact employment or the economy in a greatly negative manner.
    If you click through to where the actual studies are discussed, the studies show that this statement is true for increases from 7 - 12%. Here:  
    A significant body of academic research has found that raising the minimum wage does not result in job losses even during hard economic times. There are at least five different academic studies focusing on increases to the minimum wage—including increases ranging from 7 percent to 12.3 percent made during periods of high unemployment—that find an increase in the minimum wage has no significant effect on employment levels. The results are likely because the boost in demand and reduction in turnover provided by a minimum wage counteracts the higher wage costs.
    In other words, you can say this if you are talking about increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $7.76 (a 7% increase) or to $8.12 (a 12% increase), then you are right, the studies that you linked to show that increases in those ranges do not "greatly" impact the economy or unemployment.  That is also supported by this most recent study (pdf here) which specifically says that a MODEST increase in the minimum wage doesn't hurt unemployment very much:
    The employment effect of the minimum wage is one of the most studied topics in all of  economics.  This report examines the most recent wave of this research – roughly since 2000 – to determine the
    best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment  prospects of low-wage workers. The weight of that evidence points to little or no employment  response to modest increases in the minimum wage.

    The report reviews evidence on eleven possible adjustments to minimum-wage increases that may
    help to explain why the measured employment effects are so consistently small. The strongest  evidence suggests that the most important channels of  adjustment are: reductions in labor turnover;  
    improvements in organizational efficiency; reductions in wages of higher earners ("wage compression"); and small price increases.

    Given the relatively small cost to employers of modest increases in the minimum wage, these
    adjustment mechanisms appear to be more than sufficient to avoid employment losses,even for  employers with a large share of low-wage workers.  

    So, if you want to raise the minimum wage to $8 or maybe $8.50, you are right.

    If you want to increase the minimum wage substantially more than that, there's NO support for the proposition that it doesn't hurt the economy.  

    And if you want to raise the minimum wage to $15 -- in other words, DOUBLING labor costs for employers with a lot of unskilled work force, of course that is going to result in layoffs. With that much of an increase, no fast food franchise owner, for example (who typically operates on margins like 3% to 5% and for whom a third or more of operating costs is labor) can stay open without laying off a bunch of employees.

    So, what exactly are you advocating?  That's the relevant question to see whether your statements make sense or not.

    •  How about 75 cents a year for 10 years (0+ / 0-)

      Arriving at about $15. Or some other incremental multi year increase?

      .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 08:17:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If the cumulative is to double it in a few years (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roger Fox, VClib

        there's no data to tell you what that would or would not do to unemployment and the economy.  

        It likely (just my guess) would depend on inflation rates over the next 10 years.  If we had big big inflation (10 - 12% annually?) and labor costs were rising only a couple of points above inflation every year, maybe little impact.  

        On the other hand, if inflation is 2-3%, and you are talking about raising the minimum wage a net 10% a year over and above inflation for 10 years, that almost certainly would hurt those jobs significantly.  All of the studies talk about the fact that small increases in costs to employers are what matters.  A 100% increase in labor costs over 10 years is not small.  

        •  I think that in a vigorous economy (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          grape crush

          vs todays very slow growth, we would see different effects in each scenario.

          If we saw serious job creation, and the economy surged, 3% to 3.5% annual GDP growth, and then we raised the min wage a 75 cents each year, I doubt we wouldn't see any significant negative effect.

          Raising the min wage first, before serious job creation might not be as wise.

          .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

          by Roger Fox on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 09:07:35 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Supports my original point, of course. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roger Fox

            There's data to suggest that modest increases in the minimum wage -- increases that don't (according to one study) cost employers too much -- don't hurt unemployment or the economy.  

            Other than that, there's just no real data to tell us what would happen in different scenarios.  There's only the basic economic reality that increasing labor costs too much on employers will mean that those employers will find ways to cut back on labor.  We just don't know how much is too much.  

            •  "Other than that, there's just no real data... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Tonedevil

              ...to tell us what would happen in different scenarios."

              Not true.

              "We just don't know how much is too much."

              Which is no reason to push forward.

              "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

              by grape crush on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 10:26:55 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  This. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roger Fox, Tonedevil

            "Raising the min wage first, before serious job creation might not be as wise."

            Min wage increase is just a piece, yes.

            "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

            by grape crush on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 09:58:08 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  How about 75 cents a year for 10 years (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roger Fox

        I'm not giving numbers a whole lot of thought here.

        Cost of living varies depending on where one lives; to me that means a federal minimum wage would be some sort of arbitrary point set in order to make ourselves feel like we've done something.

        There's some areas where you can survive on $8 an hour. There's cities where $12 isn't enough. This probably means some sort of community rating along with a wage that's indexed to changes in the cost of living. I don't feel that indexing it to inflation would be the right way to go.

        That's why I kinda like that cities and states are making these minimum wage determinations based on what they think is happening locally.

        "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

        by grape crush on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 09:38:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Well, if you want to talk facts... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tonedevil

      ...you shouldn't be making statements like, "there's NO support for the proposition that it doesn't hurt the economy" without actually seeing if that statement is accurate. It isn't.

      The .pdf you cite links back to this page, so I can't check your homework. And the earlier ThinkProgress link is rather limited in scope - studying the effects of mild rate increases during periods of high unemployment is a bit too much of a special condition to support your larger statement that only modest increases don't have an effect on business.

      Other examples of larger increases with a similar negligible effect can be found at this link, but what's below is illustrative enough.

      "Cities, too, have enacted laws raising pay for low-wage workers. In 2003, Santa Fe, New Mexico adopted a citywide $8.50 an hour living-wage law with regular cost-of-living increases. At the time, Sam Goldenberg, a business leader, predicted that the law "would be a disaster for the businesses in Santa Fe." And restaurateur Al Lucero called the plan economically irresponsible and argued that "people will be so content with $8.50 or $10.50 an hour that they'll have no desire to improve themselves."

      Nearly 10 years later, the rate is now $10.29 an hour, and Santa Fe has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state at 5.1 percent. Jeff Mitchell, a senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, found "no evidence of adverse effects" from the wage hike. Santa Fe's tourism industry is doing fine. Travel + Leisure magazine last year listed Santa Fe in its top 10 U.S. and Canadian travel destinations for the 11th consecutive year."

      "So, what exactly are you advocating?"

      That we don't take a raise in the minimum wage magic bullet that's going to solve the problems of economic disparity.  

      "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

      by grape crush on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 08:44:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A single city raising the minimum wage is (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib

        a far different thing than raising it nation wide.  An expensive cost-of-living city is going to be able to handle a higher minimum wage better than a lower cost-of-living city.  

        And even the Santa Fe example raised it from less than 20% in 10 years (from $8.50 to $10.29.  I didn't do the math, but since the percentage increases are cumulative, you might be talking less than 5% a year increases each year.  (that 5% is of a slightly higher number each year).

        And you (deliberately?) took my sentence out of context. Your summary of what I said

        "there's NO support for the proposition that it doesn't hurt the economy"
        Of course, your misstatement of my point does not indicate what the "it" refers to in that sentence.  In fact, if you would have quoted the whole sentence, it is clear that the "it" is a BIG increase in the minimum wage, nation wide, immediately.   After quoting studies that support the notion that a one-time "modest" increase in the minimum wage nation wide -- a one time increase of 7 - 12% -- did not affect the economy,   I said this:
        So, if you want to raise the minimum wage to $8 or maybe $8.50, you are right.
        If you want to increase the minimum wage substantially more than that, there's NO support for the proposition that it doesn't hurt the economy.
        What I was saying is that if you want to do  modest immediate jump, you are correct that the studies show it doesn't hurt the economy much.  If you DOUBLE it right now - like going to $15 nationwide immediately, as some advocate -- then I repeat  there's NO support for the proposition that it doesn't hurt the economy.  

        Others who made comments in response understood exactly what I was saying.  I suspect you did, too, but you took half a sentence out of context so as to try to put words in my mouth.  

         

        •  "A single city raising the minimum wage..." (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Tonedevil

          If you bothered reading the link, you would have seen:

          "Since 1994, about 200 cities have passed "living wage laws" that set minimums for workers for private companies that have municipal contracts, get local tax breaks or rely on city facilities. In November, for example, voters in Long Beach, California passed a ballot measure that raises the minimum wage for hotel workers in that tourist city to $13 per hour and guarantees hotel workers five paid sick days per year. A recent study by William Lester of the University of North Carolina and Ken Jacobs of the University of California-Berkeley found no difference in employment levels between comparable cities with and without living wage laws. They disproved the claim by that these laws drive away business or lead to reduced employment."

          "If you DOUBLE it right now - like going to $15 nationwide immediately"

          I'm haven't made that argument, so it's not quite honest of you to use it as a strawman like you are. 'Some' are advocating varying amounts; it's unfortunate that you're engaging in Fox-style hyperbole here.

          ...then I repeat  there's NO support for the proposition that it doesn't hurt the economy.  

          In the limited example you've provided, you are pedantically correct. I have not run across any study stating the a doubling of the minimum wage will have a negligible impact on the economy. But again, you are being entirely pedantic and attacking a position I haven't taken.

          What I can repeat is that there is evidence that more than modest changes to the minimum wage does not have the economic impact that conservatives are stating. Which you are ignoring.

          "And you (deliberately?) took my sentence out of context."

          Your context is invalid in the first place. I'm not making an argument for doubling the minimum wage, as much as you seem to want me to.

          "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

          by grape crush on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 10:23:22 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  The compound growth rate from $8.50/hr (0+ / 0-)

          to $10.29/hr over ten years is 1.9% per year.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 10:43:00 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  yeah but. Raising the min wage (0+ / 0-)

        a dollar or 2 doesnt significantly change the big picture, Re: inequality.

        We need 20 million jobs, at that point employers would start to compete for employees and we would see real wage growth, especially in skilled labor.

        I think what coffeetalk is advocating is smaller incremental increases, see my comments in this thread. 75 cents a year for 10 years? A dollar a year for 7 yrs? But arriving at $15/hr roughly speaking.

        .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 10:21:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  A good estimate for impact of min wage increase (0+ / 0-)

      on employees earning below the new min wage, is about 2-3% lower employment per 10% increase in the minimum wage in the short to medium term.  

      The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

      by nextstep on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 10:57:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Until you un-link existence from (0+ / 0-)

    an arbitrary counter like currency, there will be little fundamental change in poverty for the great masses of people.

    I would prefer a world in which money itself ceased to exist.  Humanity had such a world before, and, yes, sometimes it did involve a barter system, but prior to that it did not.

    What has to change is so ingrained into our psyche that we can't even envision a world in which some form of currency doesn't exist.  By its very existence this currency (whatever form it takes) means that it can be accumulated and hoarded beyond that which is necessary for survival (however you define survival within the social construct).

    True economic equality will only be possible when it becomes impossible to accumulate and stockpile currency; when each individual accrues and utilizes only that currency which will be necessary and useful during their lifetimes and all excess, without exception, accrues to the community as a whole.

    Ahhh...you say, but who decides what is necessary and useful?  We do, of course.  The community of people decide.  Is food, shelter and clothing necessary for life?  Yes?  Then everyone gets it.  Is healthcare and education necessary?  Yes?  Then ditto.  

    Is meaningful employment necessary?  Oh, yes, my brother.  It is not only necessary, it is required.  But, wait...what do you call "employment?"  Is a child going to 1st grade considered employed?  Why...yes...they are.  For what they do even at that age contributes to the social good.  How about a parent staying home and raising a child?  Yes, again, brother...that, too, is employment.  Employment, in short, is anything that contributes to the individual and communal good.

    But, you say, some employment is inherently MORE valuable than others and should be compensated more for it requires more education, more effort, more resources or the consequences of failure are greater.  That...my brothers...is how you become slave holders.  When you value the work of a neurosurgeon over the work of the janitor mopping the halls of your child's school...you devalue the human; you relegate them into a point system in which some humans become greater than others.  This is what allows the wealthy of our time to view the poor, the ill, the addicted, as without value.  It is the logical extension of capitalism on a human construct.

    Like I said, though...contemplating such an existence is nearly impossible for any modern human steeped in the capitalist doctrine.  Only when Capitalism utterly fails...as it certainly will...can other systems begin to be envisioned.

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