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August 25, 2003

Popularity of Raising Min Wage to $8/hr

After the exchange with Matt on the merits of the EITC versus the minimum wage, along with my original post on Illinois raising their state minimum wage, I've decided that it's worth spending some time talking about the minimum wage, once a staple of progressive politics that is no longer at the top of that agenda. Which is a gross mistake. So I'm going to do a series of posts this week on the minimum wage. So stayed tuned. (I'm planning to concentrate on a single policy issue each week with a series of posts-- see "This Week" set of posts on right-hand column.)

Before returning to some of the basic policy issues of why the minimum wage works, today's post will concentrate on why progressives are fools politically for not promoting it.

It somewhat boggles the mind that progressive politicians for President aren't trumpeting an increase in the minimum wage on the campaign trail. Unlike a number of issues -- abortion, repealing the tax cuts, the war -- which deeply divide the population, raising the minimum wage is probably the most popular policy position trumpeted by progressives. It's a slam dunk winner.

So here's the deal-- I will offer the coveted Presidential endorsement of NathanNewman.org to the first politician that comes out for an increase in the minimum wage to $8 per hour.

Here's why-

It's Popular with Voters

Just look at a few polls:

  • 77 percent, voters favor increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $8 an hour
  • 83% support some kind of increase in minimum wage
  • Other polls

    Why not focus on a core policy that elicits so much public support?

    An $8 per hour increase will help over 20% of the population

    See this chart on data of wages by percentile, showing 20% of the population making less than $8 per hour. An additional number making more than $8 per hour will get a pay increase as employers feel pressure to raise wages across the board at the lower end to compete for more skilled workers who previously had only those $5.15 an hour jobs to fall back on.

    So increasing the minimum wage to that level will directly help a large portion of the population in a direct and demonstrable way with no increase in the federal deficit. How many other policies do progressives promote that you say that about?

    Raising the minimum wage will increase the income of those workers up to $6000 per year for full-time workers. To achieve the same result for this population with tax funds would cost $50 to $90 billion each year, unlikely in this deficit situation so this is the best policy bet in any case for helping the working poor, whatever the merits of the EITC or other alternatives.

    It will increase voter turnout among the most disaffected populations

    Poorer voters have low turnout rates largely because so much of national debates don't involve their direct interests. The minimum wage would give those voters a direct reason to turn out to vote-- to vote themselves a raise to help their families.

    A few years ago, Washington State ran a minimum wage campaign that effectively used a ballot initiative raising the minimum wage as an effective spur to turnout. If you want to appeal to low-wage voters who rarely turn-out, what is better than directly mobilizing to increase their own wages?

    Why $8 per hour?

    On one level it's a very conservative number. All it does is restore the value of the minimum wage to about where it was in real dollars back in 1968. It seems reasonable that after thirty-five years of growth, the working poor should at least be making the same amount as back then.

    Others would reasonably ask why not a larger increase-- and the reductio ad absurdum is for conservatives to say, yeah, why not raise it to $50 per hour. The simplest answer is empirical-- let's raise it to $8 to the level in 1968 when the economy did fine with the rate at that level. Then talk about raising it some more then. A number of states have already raised the minimum wage significantly above the national level ($7.15 in Alaska, $7.05 Washington State, $7.10 Connecticut (1/04), and so on) and Santa Fe, New Mexico has raised their local minimum wage to $8.50 per hour with San Francisco voting on a similar increase this fall. So $8 per hour is right in the consensus level of state and local initiatives around the minimum wage.

    I'll be back in a day or so with posts on Why the Minimum Wage Can Increase Employment, Why We Shouldn't Worry if It Costs Jobs, and any other issues that come up in comments.

    Update: The DLC folks have posted an interesting set of indepth polling on popular agendas for Democrats. Yet when you look at their tested big ideas -- affordable college education, affordable health care, homeland security --none poll more than 62% popularity across the country. (See pp. 14-15). They notably did not poll for raising the minimum wage, since that doesn't support their agenda, but it's a rather compelling fact that support for the minimum wage is significantly more popular than their best list of issues.

    Posted by Nathan at August 25, 2003 08:41 AM