Jim Brock: It’s not about the minimum wage
Voters on Nov. 4 will decide whether an incremental state minimum wage increase from $7.25 per hour to $8 next year and to $9 on Jan. 1, 2016, is the right move in Nebraska.
This is a controversial argument between conservatives and liberals. The primary argument from the right makes sense – paying employees more money will drive up labor costs, resulting in higher prices for products and/or a smaller workforce.
Conversely, so does the argument from the left – dipping into your monstrous profit margins to pay employees higher wages will improve productivity and customer service quality.
The federal minimum wage, also $7.25 per hour, has been a source of contention for several years.
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass legislation raising the minimum wage on more than one occasion, but here we are – still at seven and a quarter.
Let’s look at the facts on minimum wage.
According to the BLS, 75.3 million workers age 16 and over were paid by the hour, representing 59 percent of all wage and salary workers in 2012. Of that number, 1.6 million earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and about 2 million had wages below the federal minimum – making up 4.7 percent of all hourly workers.
That is a very small number, and I don’t see how raising the minimum wage will do anything more than embolden the corporations to reduce their workforces and increase their prices.
And here’s why.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time wage and salary workers earned $780 weekly, or $40,560 annually, in the second quarter of 2014.
Not bad, but when you consider the median CEO pay was about $10.5 million per year in 2013, it’s difficult not to feel a little cheated.
But you can rest assured that the higher-ups will do whatever it takes to protect their wealth.
For the rest of us, choosing your battles is a necessary evil, because dignity has little value when your pockets are empty.
Upton Sinclair had a great point when he said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
We take what we can get.
According to an August 2014 report from CNN Money, Sentier Research reported that the median household income increased to $53,891 in June 2014, but it hasn’t returned to the June 2009 figure of $55,589.
According to the BLS, in January 1981, the federal minimum wage was raised from $3.10 to $3.35, right before President Jimmy Carter left office. We didn’t see an increase until the administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush, when it was raised to $3.80 and $4.25 in 1990 and 1991 respectively. Increases were also implemented during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The most recent was in July 2009, when the rate increased from $6.55 to $7.25.
Since 1981, the minimum wage has only increased $3.90, but Americans have seen economic prosperity in that time.
I personally don’t think an increase to $9 per hour is out of the question, but many in the corporate world feel that $7.25 is too much.
The problem isn’t the amount of money paid on the bottom rung, it’s the unlimited cash flow at the top. Stockholders and executives are responsible for salaries – not the federal government.
The government debt continues to pile up because taxpayers subsidize corporations that refuse to pay their employees a decent wage and offer affordable health insurance.
When the profit margins are through the roof and stock prices are at record highs (even adjusted for inflation), they continue to find tax loopholes and no one cares.
A simple economics class will tell you that when revenues are much lower than expenditures, the debt will pile up when the government has to borrow money to cover continual shortfalls.
I can see tax breaks for corporations when they are hiring American workers and stimulating local economies, but that ship has all but sailed.
Well, the shibboleth “I never had a poor man give me a job” isn’t going to cut it anymore.
That isn’t an excuse for 90 percent of America to earn less than 50 percent of the nation’s wealth.
A minimum wage increase is a short-term fix for a small – but equally important – group of Americans, but the long-term fix is for corporate America to start filling America’s pockets instead of their own.
Americans with money consume more products and services when they aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
The war on poverty shouldn’t be fought from Washington, it should be fought from Wall Street.
Maintaining a wage gap wider than the Pacific Ocean has become the American way, and that’s why we are failing, and voting for the delusional Tea Party candidate who maligns “lazy takers” only exacerbates an already broken system.
If we want a prosperous America, we have to vote with our brains and not our Facebook friends lists.
There’s enough money out there for everyone, so why do we continue to give it to people who don’t care if we ever see it again?
Jim Brock is managing editor of the Nebraska City News-Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.