Just Sayin'

Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.

Give 'Em a Raise !

Political, Wisconsin, U.S., Economy

I have a Facebook friend, "Manny", whose politics are very far right. Manny defends the Duck Dynasty racist guy. He thinks that packing heat should be legal anywhere by anybody. And he drives out of his way to eat the chicken-based food products at Chick-fil-A. I actually enjoy reading Manny's FB posts, just to see what internet memes the crazies are circulating.

Recently, Manny sent around an article from the far-right Cato institute. Cato's dubious thesis is that, if the poor took advantage of all available anti-poverty programs, they would be financially better-off than minimum wage workers. Actually, in only 8 states would a single-parent/two kids household receiving the three major benefits (SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid) be better-off than a minimum wage worker. Of course, Manny's point in sending out this article was that we should stop supplying any temporary assistance to our neediest. Let 'em starve. Survival of the fittest, you know.

I had a quite different take on the article. My immediate thought was that, rather than punish the destitute by cutting temporary public assistance, we should increase the incentives to work. We should increase the minimum wage so that in no state would a person working full-time make effectively less than someone on assistance (by Cato's numbers) .

Currently, a full-time minimum wage worker makes just $15,080 during a vacation-less, holiday-less, and illness-free year. After deducting FICA, that becomes $14,145. A minimum wage family of two is $1,585 below the poverty line. And a family of four is $9,705 below. Despite common misconception, these workers aren't all just kids. The average age of minimum wage workers is 35 and 36% are 40 or older.

At those meager earnings levels, many workers making at or near minimum wage are on assistance. In fact, almost three-quarters of enrollments in public assistance programs are from working families. It has been estimated that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would cut SNAP expenditures alone by $46 billion over ten years. Taxpayers are heavily subsidizing low-paying bosses.

According to a Congressional Budget Office report, increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would result in widespread benefits to our lowest paid workers. About 16.5 million workers would get a much-needed pay raise, giving a strong job-creating boost to our economy. The increase would move about 900,000 people out of poverty.

Because of the benefits to both individuals and the nation, a bill is being sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. This would be the first such increase since 2009. The bill has not yet gone to the Senate floor for a vote due to the difficulty in overcoming the inevitable Republican filibuster. House Speaker John Boehner does not plan to bring the bill to a House vote because he is mean.

In an attempt to end-run Boehner, an amendment to raise the minimum wage was attached to a Republican bill on job training. In a March vote, each and every Republican in the House, including our own James Sensenbrenner, voted against the amendment.

In poll after poll, the American people strongly support raising the minimum wage. Clearly, Sensemnbrenner and his political cronies are ignoring the will of the people. Without a change of Congress, it appears that such an increase will not happen at the national level. What about the state level?

Twenty-two states currently have minimum wages higher than the federal level, but Wisconsin is not one of them. Realizing the impossibility of getting any nation-wide action by John Boehner's House, many other states are considering action.

Sadly, it appears that nothing will be done here. A bill (AB-542) to increase the Wisconsin minimum wage was introduced in the State Assembly in December. Not a single Republican signed on as a co-sponsor. In a procedural move, the bill was denied a floor vote by a 60-36 margin. Among those refusing to consider the bill were Dan Knodl (R-Germantown).

In a similar procedural move, the bill was denied a State Senate floor vote. Joining a 18-14 majority, Senator-for-life, Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), voted against allowing a vote on increasing the state minimum wage.

And we certainly won't get leadership on increasing the state minimum wage from the Governor. Scott "Vegas" Walker flippantly dismisses the opportunity for our lowest-paid workers to earn more as "a political grandstanding stunt".

Despite the overwhelming desire of Americans to increase the minimum wage, such a move has met strong resistance from Republican politicians at the national and state levels. Low wage workers simply do not have the political clout of billionaire political donors.Those who claim to represent us must be pressured to do the right thing. It is time for the minimum wage to be raised.



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