Restrict increase in minimum wage
As a small business owner I'm normally opposed to government-imposed benefits that increase the already burdensome costs of doing business. But even I agree with the majority of Americans that it's time to boost the minimum wage -- with certain restrictions, that is.
The new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to act on a bill to raise the minimum wage as one of Congress' first legislative efforts this month.
In an era when inflation seems to be spiraling upward much, much faster than official statistics would have us believe, 5 and change per hour hardly makes it worth working at all. Think of how prices have risen these past 10 years (while the minimum wage has not) for such necessities as rent or mortgage payments, transportation and health care. It boggles the mind think of paying today's base costs on an income level prescribed a decade ago.
Conservatives argue against raising the minimum.
The conservative Heritage Foundation claims that raising the minimum wage is no way to raise the standard of living for low-income adults, saying they are not the majority of people earning the minimum. Instead, the Foundation cites government data claiming the majority of Americans earning the minimum wage are teenagers living at home and working part-time. "A majority (of those earning the minimum) are between the ages of 16 and 24, and less than a fifth live below the poverty line."
One could presume, then, that given a raise these young Americans might be able to afford to move out and live on their own, or, more importantly, use the additional revenue to pay off horrendous college tuition loans.
In fact, it could be argued those Americans, described by the Heritage Foundation as not needing an increase in the minimum, need it more desperately than other groups of Americans.
College student debt
Indeed, StudentDebtAlert.org reports that American college students collectively owe 453,000,000 on college loans. Nearly two-thirds of all four-year college graduates now have student loans and the number of students who graduate with more than 25,000 in loan debt has tripled since the early 1990s.
Heritage further claims if the minimum wage goes up, the lowest-skilled Americans (to wit, young people) lose their jobs to higher-skilled workers companies can then afford to hire. That claim stretches the imagination. Employers paying minimum wage must rely on just about anyone who walks through the door to fill the openings they offer. Tenure in minimum wage jobs is, for obvious reasons, much shorter than tenure in better-paying positions. Just because that wage is raised by two dollars per hour doesn't mean a flood of Harvard graduates will be lining up to work in entry-level jobs at Wendy's.
I did mention, though, that I'd like to see restrictions on a rise in the minimum wage. It should be limited to jobs filled by American citizens. What's driving down low-skilled workers' wages more than any other factor is competition from immigration, both legal and illegal. The vast majority of immigrant workers are uneducated, lured to the United States by meager earnings because their homeland economies don't create enough employment. Any rise in the minimum wage will create a larger incentive for immigration to the U.S. and therefore could drive down citizens' earnings further.
Even the unions agree. SF.com ran the following quote: "'Guest worker programs are a bad idea and harm all workers,' AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. 'Guest worker programs encourage employers to turn good jobs into temporary jobs at reduced wages and diminished working conditions, and contribute to the growing class of workers laboring in poverty."'
Is there a chance Congress will impose such restrictions? Of course not. Political correctness reigns supreme.
Democrats favor the immigration lobby, even over and above low income Americans of foreign descent.
And Republicans support businesses that thrive on exploitation of low-income workers.
But if either party were interested in helping the very Americans who need help the most, they would pass an increase in the minimum wage that includes such restrictions.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.