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YES, RAISE THE WAGE FLOOR



Published: Fri, September 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: In each of the past few years, congressional Democrats have tried and failed to raise the minimum wage. Having taken control of the Senate, they now intend to try again -- and harder. We hope they succeed. An increase is long overdue. The wage was last raised four years ago. The increase was modest. At $5.15 an hour, its purchasing power remains lower than in 40 of the past 45 years, and some 25 percent below the average level of the 1970s. Not even the Democratic proposal -- a $1.50 increase over three years -- would fully restore it.

The arguments against raising the wage are always the same. Opponents say an increase would cost jobs, in that employers would not be able to afford as many workers. But the evidence of that is scanty. There may be some such effect, but not much. As a class, low-wage earners are far more helped than hurt by an increase. The opponents also regularly observe that not all low-wage workers are poor; some are teen-age or other secondary earners in households with comfortable incomes. But if it's true that many who work at the minimum wage aren't poor, it's equally true that many poor or near-poor people work at the minimum wage. No other step that Congress would be likely to take would reach as many low-income people.

Inflation: Business lobbyists are also warning Congress against adding to the burdens of employers while the economy is weak. But they make the opposite arguments when it is strong -- that an increase in the wage would be either inflationary or, take your pick, unnecessary in that employers are already having to pay more than the minimum. Income inequality has increased greatly in America in recent years. The failure of the minimum wage to keep pace even with inflation is one of the reasons. The decline in the welfare rolls has made a firm wage floor even more important. A single mother of two can work full-time year-round at the current minimum and still make $3,400 less than the poverty threshold for a family of three.

Republicans in recent years have deflected minimum-wage increases partly by insisting that they be coupled with insupportable tax cuts. The expensive cuts were packaged as relief for small employers -- efforts to help them bear the cost of the higher wage. But in fact most of the benefit would have gone to higher-income individuals who employ few if any low-wage workers. A modest tax cut limited to employers who actually pay the minimum wage might be justified. But a bill to benefit the lowest-paid ought not become the hostage for a tax cut for the rich. Nor should the wage increase be optional for the states, as the president has proposed. Congress should raise the wage floor; it's past time.

CHINA LIFTS THE VEIL ON AIDS

Miami Herald: Two years ago a group of prominent Chinese scientists called on China's leaders to acknowledge the spread of HIV in the country. They warned that if China didn't begin to take measures to control the deadly disease that an epidemic would ensue. The only official result of the call for action was criticism of the scientist in charge for causing embarrassment to the government.

But two years and many more cases of HIV infections and AIDS deaths later, the Chinese government is showing more enlightenment. It has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for help, a rare request for the regime.

Drug users: The virus is most often found now in China in drug users, those involved in prostitution and people exposed to tainted blood and medical equipment. But after visiting four Chinese provinces, the CDCP representatives warned that HIV is about to move into China's huge general population, which could spell disaster.

By 2010, 20 million Chinese could be infected, said agency officials. Such a large infection rate would have implications outside China's borders, too. Every new infection creates the potential for several other people to contract HIV.

It's encouraging that China's government finally has lifted the veil from its eyes and recognized that it needs help to fight this killer.

PROPOSED SECRECY LAW GOES TOO FAR

The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune: Federal law already punishes government employees who try to harm the United States by leaking classified information about national defense. And if defense officials think too many vital secrets are getting out, the first question they should ask is whether the current law is being adequately enforced.

Instead, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama has proposed to broaden the law to forbid the leaking of "properly classified" information, and not just on defense-related matters. Moreover, his proposal would allow the prosecution not just of people who are trying to harm national security, but of all leakers -- including people who blow the whistle on misconduct within defense agencies.

Veto: The measure goes far beyond the safeguards necessary to protect government secrets. Members of Congress should oppose Sen. Shelby's proposal. If it passes, President Bush should veto it.

No one is suggesting that all military secrets should become public immediately. Limiting access to the technical details of advanced weapons technologies and to certain military plans might well be less harmful to the interests of the American public than letting such information fall into enemy hands.

Sen. Shelby's measure can only heighten public suspicion -- perhaps unduly -- about military activities, and it will insulate defense officials from any possibility that they will ever be held accountable for their conduct. The proposal should not become law.




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