Everyone around Thom Tillis in the Republican House Speaker’s campaign for the U.S. Senate knows where he stands on North Carolina raising the minimum wage past the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. He’s against it, saying it ought to be left to the states, a favorite cop-out of politicians who don’t want to take a stand.
Tillis claims, as he did on a tour of farms in Wilson County recently, that some business owners he’s talked to say raising the minimum wage would force them to lay off workers. He’s also opposed to a universal minimum wage, saying it should vary from state to state. In one interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in May, Tillis said the idea that someone in the North Carolina mountains should make the same minimum wage as someone in Boston “makes no sense to me.”
In that, the speaker showed both his true, pro-business, anti-labor colors and also his inexperience in big-time campaigning. He handed his opponent, Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, a ripe melon of an issue to crush.
Hagan reminded people at a labor convention in Raleigh last week of Tillis’ comment and said, “Well, I will never put Boston over Boone, and this is what Speaker Tillis has done.”
Lately, though, Tillis has been avoiding the question. Though he’s clearly against a minimum wage hike, he knows that North Carolina has a lot of low-paid workers who’d vote against him, and turn out to vote against him, on that issue alone. And he undoubtedly knows that a Public Policy Polling survey last month found 56 percent of likely voters supported a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour, roughly what Hagan favors. Some 37 percent were opposed.
Hagan also has a comeback for Tillis’ tired old claims that raising the minimum wage would force layoffs and cost those low-paid workers their jobs. “It (a higher wage) really gives people more funds to spend to buy, and to help grow those small businesses,” she said. Yes, and businesses have to have a certain number of workers to get their goods made or distributed. To say that forcing them to raise pay a little for some workers would result in big layoffs is little more than wishful Republican thinking. Businesses would cope with a wage hike, as they have in the past.
Indeed, holding the wage at a level set in 2009 is an unfair subsidy to employers. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage should be $10.55 per hour. Adjusted to keep pace with the overall growth in the U.S. economy, it should be $21.16 per hour, according to Inequality.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Tillis now seems to be avoiding comment, treading softly at least, and that’s because he knows opposing a hike in the minimum wage is a loser, even though minimum wage earners are disproportionately women and younger people who tend to vote Democratic.
If the speaker truly can make a case that raising the minimum wage is some kind of job-killing, economy-inhibiting move, then let him make the case and get out front with it. He doesn’t seem to be able to do that.
In 2014, 11 states enacted increases in the minimum wage. Now, some 23 states have minimum wage rates higher than the national standard. In those states, the economies have not collapsed and the world has not come to an end.
A decent wage helps individuals and families, but as Hagan said, it also bolsters the overall economy. How Tillis can continue to stick to his pro-business, anti-labor mantra when he knows Hagan’s position is true is mind-boggling. It may appeal to the right-wing base of the Republican Party, but it can’t be justified as helpful to a consumer-driven economy.
Come November, Tillis and other Republicans are going to be called to account for their positions on this issue, and on not increasing the number of North Carolinians eligible for Medicaid though the federal government would pay for it. Then there’s the Republicans’ not-finest hour of cutting unemployment benefits for North Carolinians looking for work.
Tillis should stand behind his positions, not simply try to avoid talking about them.