If there is one thing my long-suffering editor really likes, it’s when I write long, dry columns about economic issues, in which I offer no real conclusion or credible solution (Ed: um…not quite…). And so it is likely no surprise that a recent Colorado Politics story caught my eye. The article discusses the odd alliance of groups and individuals that support the proposed hike in the national minimum wage to $15 per hour. Lots of MAGA and other GOPers are now supporting the increase, which I admit surprised me.
But as the article points out, more and more folks from across the political spectrum are embracing the wage hike; a hike that is supported by two-thirds of Americans. Here in Colorado, we already raised our state minimum wage to $12 per hour. But there are still those out there who claim that these increases are a bad thing. They assert that it will kill jobs and otherwise hurt the economy. The federal wage has not changed since 2009, when it was boosted from $6.55 to the current $7.25. Prior to that change, it was stuck at $5.15 for a decade. Had the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, the wage would now stand at over $24 per hour, so $15 seems like a bargain.
Which, of course, brings us to the 113th McDonald’s restaurant ever built, in Ann Arbor, Michigan …
I started working at said McD’s when I hit 16. It was my very first “real” job, and I was a minimum wage employee. I started at the seemingly princely sum of $1.60 per hour, and I felt rich when I got my first paycheck of $52. I was 16 and that was enough to buy some Estes rockets (made here in Colorado, I later learned, but I digress…). Now, for a kid with no expenses, a lower minimum wage isn’t too much of a problem. Some of the proposed changes to the Biden plan include adding in an age component that would allow, say, kids like I was to be paid a lower wage. I think I’m OK with that.
But for adults trying to support families, it is a different story. Now, I can almost hear some of my libertarian friends yelling that market forces will fix everything, and that there shouldn’t be any minimum wage at all. But I think most Americans understand that market forces are imperfect, and that a race to the bottom of the wage scale is not a good idea. If you reject the idea that there should be a minimum wage at all we will be forced to agree to disagree. But if you are like most folks and agree that there should be some floor to wages, then we can just argue about the level.
Those opposed to an increase tend to cling to the assertions of a rapidly decreasing number of economists. Actual evidence shows that the claims of job loss are overblown. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman effectively lays that argument bare, noting that the same people now yelping about the dangers of a wage increase tend to be the same folks that argued that the Trump tax cut for rich folks paid for itself (spoiler: it didn’t).
If the minimum wage truly was a significant driver of inflation and job loss, we would have reasonably expected prices not to rise, for example, since 2007 or so. Clearly, that has not been the case. But let us say for a moment that such an increase might increase prices. That leads to the basic question of what you are willing to do to help your fellow Americans trapped in low wage jobs. Back before he was disgraced when his private behavior became public, the head of Papa John’s pizza railed against the requirements of Obamacare, stating that if he had to actually provide health care to his employees, he’d be forced to raise the price of his pizzas by…wait for it…about 14 cents. Yup, 14 cents. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am very happy to pay an additional few pennies per pizza if that means the good people working in his kitchens can get health care. And it’s the same for the minimum wage: I will happily pay a bit more if that means the person serving my fries can afford a safe place to live. By one estimate, such increases are felt most directly on dining out, with less than a 1% rise in prices. So, my Big Mac meal would go up about a nickel. I’m ok with that.
Any proposed legislation that seems to unite MAGA folks with Dems and has the support of nearly 70% of Americans seems like it should get through the Senate with ease. But that does not appear to be the case. And so, we will wait and see what happens. I sure hope the increase passes. In the meantime, please do not forget to tip your servers well. They don’t make very much per hour these days.