American conservatives love to say that raising the minimum wage is a “job killer.” They like to cite figures from the Congressional Budget Office that suggest the country would lose 500,000 jobs if the minimum wage was raised from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.
Never mind that the same CBO report estimates a full 16.5 million Americans would get a raise. Conservatives pay no mind. Having found the one talking point that provides coverage to do the bidding of their corporate backers, they stick to their guns, and repeat, “Job killer, job killer!”
For a while there, their boogieman worked. But increasingly, it falls on deaf ears. Witness the wave of state and municipal minimum wages increases that has swept America, with even bigger increases on the way. Americans have seen the light and aren ’t backing down. Now fully six out of 10 Americans say they believe the minimum wage should be $15 an hour.
Yet, somehow, the conservative naysaying persists. As is sometimes the case in life, you have to do the math to see how false a claim really is.
Over at Civic Skunk Works, blogger Goldy has done just that. Taking the city of Seattle as an example, he explains why the unemployment rate is not the best measure of success for a minimum wage increase. (A bit of background. This January, Seattle raised its minimum wage to as much as $13 an hour. By 2017, it hopes to get it to $15.)
Goldy writes, “If you think about it, if you’re unemployed, what really matters to you personally is unemployment duration, not the unemployment rate — that’s the amount of time it takes you to find a new job. You know, the time during which you might expect to be unemployed.”
He continues: “Let’s say, on January 1 of this year, two workers, Mark and Tim, got laid off from their $13 an hour jobs at a franchise of a national fast food chain. Mark immediately took a $9.47 an hour job tossing pizzas in Renton, while Tim took 14 weeks of unemployment — until April 1 — until he could find another $13 an hour job in Seattle. By September 2, Tim’s year-to-date income would already surpass Mark’s, despite three full months of unemployment! Assuming full-time work, by the end of the year, patient Tim would have out-earned Mark by more than $2,400.
“But the real payoff for Tim comes in 2017,” Goldy writes, “when Seattle’s minimum wage climbs to $15, and the inflation-adjusted state minimum wage inches up to maybe $9.66, tops. Over the course of the year, Tim would earn more than $11,100 more than Mark for the same 2,040 hours of full-time work!”
So there you have it. Some will temporarily lack for work, which is unfortunate. But overall, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. Many more people will have much more money. Macroeconomically, it is a no brainer.
And that’s not all. The Patriotic Millionaires believe it is a societal no brainer. Not only do American workers deserve more money, they also deserve more dignity, the kind of dignity that comes with being able to support yourself.
People aren’t free when they have no agency or control over their life. They are not free if they are falling into poverty, or are already living there. Hard work must translate into a better life for oneself and one’s children, or what’s the point of it all? Why just toil away day after day with nothing to show for it? We must have something to show for our efforts.
The importance of raising the minimum wage goes well beyond economics. It strikes to the core of our common humanity. A higher minimum wage means hardworking parents will no longer have to hear half of the country’s political establishment calling them “takers.” It means parents who work full time can come home in time to help with their kids homework, and maybe join the PTA. It means less stress and anxiety in the lives of working people; more dignity, and the pride that comes along with a job well done. Fair compensation will mean stronger families, stronger communities, a more unified body politic. Raising the minimum wage will mean more hope in American life, and a boost to our Gross National Happiness — and isn’t that the point of this all, anyway?
Math helps to clarify this, but ultimately the American people understand with their gut and their intuition. That is why the wave of increases is sure to continue.
Conservatives say they hate the welfare state. But they sit by while the country is rife with jobs that don’t pay enough to get by. If they don’t want people to be dependent on government, they should make it possible for them to be dependent on themselves. When people can stand on their own two feet, they can change the world.
So show me the money, and I’ll show you so much more.