Robinson: Demystify the minimum wage
One of the most widely discussed but least understood public policy debates essential to the well-being of our economy and every American citizen is the minimum wage.
Labor unions, civil rights groups, and progressive and working-class Americans of all races, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds have been struggling for years to get our country to establish a fair, livable minimum wage, such as $15 an hour.
Polls have consistently shown Americans support this. However, advocates continue to meet not only opposition from business and political leaders but also ambivalence from people who stand to gain the most from a minimum wage increase.
I fear this is due in large measure to the successful efforts by big business and its allies in the state and federal legislatures and the media to mislead and confuse the public about the impact of increases.
It’s time we demystified the minimum wage.
We can start by bringing clarity to some of the biggest myths. Perhaps the most widespread and pernicious is that increasing the minimum wage is bad for businesses.
The U.S. Department of Labor points out that such talk is patently untrue. It notes on its website that academic research has shown that higher wages sharply reduce employee turnover and thus can reduce employment and training costs.
More fundamentally, higher wages mean millions of underpaid workers will spend their increase in local communities, thus boosting the city, state and federal economies — and creating more jobs.
Which brings us to the next myth: Increasing the minimum wage is bad for the economy.
The Department of Labor points out that over the past 75 years the federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times. And since 1938 real GDP per capita has steadily increased, even when the minimum wage has been raised.
Two more widespread myths are that increasing the minimum wage will cause people to lose their jobs and that small-business owners can’t afford to pay their workers an increased minimum wage.
The fact is, more than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, have written to President Barack Obama and Congress urging an increase. They noted new evidence showing that “increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”
And, in fact, a July 2015 survey found that 3 out of 5 small businesses support a gradual increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Like everyone else, they understand the extra money is likely to be spent on the local economy, and they will be a direct beneficiary.
The minimum wage is a critically important issue that should be open to public debate. However, those debates should be rooted in facts and reality, not myths meant to scare people into voting against their own self-interests. You can use these facts to spread the word.
Marge Robinson, a registered nurse, is president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan and president of the Michigan State Council.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.