Editorials

Raise the minimum wage, lift the economy

Striking fast food workers from around North Carolina converged in Durham for a fast food worker rally and call for a minimum wage increase to $15/hour in 2014.
Striking fast food workers from around North Carolina converged in Durham for a fast food worker rally and call for a minimum wage increase to $15/hour in 2014. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Political debates can generate good and positive ideas, and that’s the case with Democrats pushing for a higher minimum wage. Bernie Sanders advocates for the $15 minimum per hour. Hillary Clinton says she’d be fine with localities hitting that figure, but supports a $12 minimum on the federal level.

That’s liable to change. On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the first statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour, and he was followed by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

While it’s true that those two states typically lead the nation in these types of economic issues, there are movements elsewhere to reach the $15 per hour threshold. Some individual businesses such as Walmart, Gap and Ikea have boosted workers’ minimum hourly wage. And it’s about time. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the value of the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.54. Today, it’s $7.25 and hasn’t increased since 2009.

It may be that struggling businesses or smaller businesses with low profit margins can’t realistically pay $15 per hour all at once. They should be allowed to phase in the increase.

But $15 is not an unreasonable national goal. And certainly North Carolina’s Republican-run legislature signaled its disdain for working people when, as part of a bill on scuttling anti-discrimination laws on sexual identity and gender in Charlotte, it prohibited counties from exceeding North Carolina’s current $7.25 hourly minimum wage. That had nothing to do with the Charlotte issue, but was tossed in for good measure. It’s another preposterous example of interference in local matters by state lawmakers, many of whom tout themselves as “small government” conservatives, when they have infringed on other issues best controlled at the local level.

It would be nice if the N.C. Chamber, the organization that’s supposed to represent business interests in the state, would come out in favor of a higher minimum wage, but the organization seems wedded to hidebound traditions wherein the state’s workers are the lowest priority.

A higher minimum wage does not cause runaway losses for businesses. What it does do is put more money in people’s pockets, some of it income they’ll actually be able to spend — at other businesses. It puts more workers in the active economy, not just barely scraping by once bills are paid.

It also reduces the need some people currently on the minimum wage have for support programs such as food stamps. Raising the minimum wage lifts everyone.

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