Living Wage

It’s time to raise, not abolish the minimum wage

   It was startling, but unfortunately not surprising, to see the mean-spirited letter titled “The Illegitimate minimum wage” by Patrick A. Hazel, Chair of Lincoln County Republicans (Nov. 28 edition). In my view, no issue better serves to highlight the di• erence between the Democratic Party and the right-wing extremists who control the Republican Party of today. In fact, the minimum wage is not only Constitutional, it is a vital component of our economy and overdue for a significant raise.

 

   More than 8 percent of Lincoln County employees are working at the state minimum wage level of $9.10/ hour (Oregon Department of Labor). Many more would benefit as their near-minimum wages would ratchet up if the legal minimum were to be increased. Average workers’ wages have remained flat or even fallen since the “trickle down” policies of the Reagan administration. At the same time, the average CEO compensation has skyrocketed to 354 times higher than their average workers’ pay.

 

   There is a prevailing myth that the typical minimum wage earner is likely a highschool student who is trying to earn a little extra money to save for a car or college. That may have been the case once upon a time, as it was in my own youth. The problem is, the average minimum wage worker in the U.S. is now 35 years old. And two-thirds of minimum wage earners today are women, a large number of whom are the main income providers for their families. The impact of these disparities doesn’t just hurt those low-income earners. It affects all of us as fellow Americans, not to mention the impacts on taxpayers as demand for social programs escalates along with the inability of people to just get by, let alone thrive.

   Hazel contends that the minimum wage is unconstitutional. It isn’t. The place to argue that point is in the U.S. Supreme Court, where it has repeatedly been adjudicated Constitutional, beginning with West Coast Hotels v. Parrish in 1937.

   Hazel also claims that “what an employer chooses to chooses to compensate his employees ... is not a legitimate pursuit of government.” We Democrats, in contrast, recognize that the government isn’t some foreign oppressive entity, but is the mechanism that brings us together in pursuit of the common good, through majority rule and compromise between competing interests. When a program such as the minimum wage improves the lives of countless Americans, both at and above that minimum, then it is legitimately a pursuit of our government.

   The city of Seattle, for one example, recently adopted a gradual increase in their minimum wage to $15/hour. Since they have taken the first steps in that direction, there has been no observable increase in unemployment, despite the conservative, so-called “think tanks” alarmist predictions. According to a story originally published by the Puget Sound Business Journal in October of this year, titled “Apocalypse Not: $15 and the [job] cuts that never came,” reveals that restaurant owners in the state who originally feared that the wage hike would hurt their business are now strongly convinced that it made only a positive impact. This makes sense, as now more people have the money to eat. Since the wage hike passed on April 1, dozens of new restaurants have opened.

   Readers who are under the impression that there isn’t a signifi cant di• erence between the Democrats and Republicans today need only to contrast their positions on the minimum wage to see that the difference is night and day. Or the difference between the 19th and 21st centuries.

   Steve Myers is historian/ executive committee member of the Lincoln County Democrats.