10 reasons we need more than a $10.10 minimum wage

The figure keeps up with inflation, but not entirely, and we're still lagging behind other industrialized countries

Topics: AlterNet, Minimum wage, Inflation, Barack Obama, University of Virginia, New York Times, ,

10 reasons we need more than a $10.10 minimum wage (Credit: iStockphoto/Alexey Stiop)

On Friday, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for some federally contracted workers to $10.10. This move illustrates the fact that we need a higher minimum wage for all workers. It also promotes the bill by Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015.

Make no mistake: The president’s gesture was a good one, and the Harkin/Miller bill is very important. But, as is so often the case nowadays, strategists on the left run the risk of prematurely accepting preconceptions about what is “politically possible.” If economic debate becomes strictly a defensive game on the left, the “Overton window” of acceptable debate will keep shifting toward the right.

The minimum wage is an excellent case in point. There are strong arguments for raising it even more — perhaps considerably more — than is currently being discussed, and the independent left should be making them.

Here are 10 reasons why “$10.10″ should be a floor, not a ceiling, in discussions of the minimum wage.

1. It keeps up with inflation — but not entirely.

Compared to the 1968 minimum wage, $10.10 is enough to keep up with inflation — more or less. But it doesn’t make up for the many years in which minimum wage workers fell behind. Those years often led to increased debt, lost educational opportunities, and other forms of deprivation.

2. We’re lagging behind other industrialized countries.

The U.S. minimum wage is well behind that of most other industrialized countries. Even at $10.10, we would be laggards compared with most of our peers. (But not all of them. To use the vernacular: In your face, Slovak Republic!)

Our current minimum wage is roughly 40 percent the median national income. We would have to raise it to roughly $10.88, effective immediately, to equal France’s. And don’t we want to do even better than that? (Source: International Labor Organization)



Where’s that American exceptionalism when we need it?

3. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity, it would be $21.72 today.

The Harkin/Miller bill would peg the minimum wage to inflation in future years. But there’s a very strong argument for tying it to productivity instead. That’s what the minimum wage did in the years between 1947 and 1968, as economist Dean Baker regularly points out. (Source: Dean Baker, CEPR)

If the minimum wage were based on productivity increases from 1968 to today, it would be more than $21 per hour. (Source: John Schmitt, CEPR)

Corporations would have us believe that even a modest minimum wage which is tied to inflation would stifle growth and lead to increased joblessness. And yet, during the decades that the minimum wage rose even higher, with productivity, we experienced an average of 4 percent annual GDP growth and 4 percent unemployment. (Source: Baker and Kimball, CEPR)

In fact, the official unemployment rate in 1968 was less than half of the rate today, and the actual employment figures were even better.

Productivity measures the wealth produced by an economy. One-percenters want us to believe otherwise, but a system in which most new wealth goes to them is the exception, not the rule. Why are we deliberately preserving this harmful situation.

4. If the minimum wage had kept pace with the incomes of the top 1 percent, it would be more than $28 per hour today.

Minimum-wage workers to America’s wealthiest citizens: We’ll take it! (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

5. A single parent will still need federal assistance.

With a minimum wage of $10.10, a parent raising a single child will no longer qualify for food assistance. But a single parent with two children will still need the help, since a full-time minimum wage won’t lift them far enough above the poverty threshold.

A full-time worker earning $10.10 per hour makes $21,008 per year. The cutoff level for educational aid through the TRIO program is $23,595 for a household of two. The cutoff level for food assistance is $25,392 (annualized) for a three-person household. (Sources: Office of Postsecondary EducationUSDA/SNAP)

6. Corporate profits are at or near record-high levels.

They’re so high, in fact, that management is reportedly getting nervous about it. A $10.10 minimum wage might not do enough to re-balance wages and profits, and thus to put their hearts at rest.

7. It’s what the public wants.

Two-thirds of voters want to see the minimum wage increased to at least $10.10, according to recent polling. Forty-three percent of them would like to see it raised even higher – and that’s without anybody making the case for that higher number.

Why not make that argument to the American people? We would be more likely to wind up with a minimum wage they’ll like even better.

8. A higher minimum wage will do even more to spur economic growth and widespread prosperity.

They’ll probably like their economy better, too. So much of our national income is flowing to the wealthiest among us that they literally don’t know what to do with it. Spending and investment have dropped among high earners, and more of their income is sitting idly in bank accounts.

Minimum-wage workers spend what they earn. That leads to increased economic growth — the kind which benefits all wage-earning employees.

9. All sorts of Republican Presidents have signed bills increasing the minimum wage.

Eisenhower did. (Source: Miller Center, University of Virginia)

So did Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. (Source: Bill Scher, The Week)

10. Newt Gingrich’s Congress raised the minimum wage, too.

In fact, Gingrich’s Republican Congress raised it by more than 21 percent back in 1996. So why can’t John Boehner’s Congress be pressed to do the same thing?

One difference: Democrats hammered the GOP relentlessly with procedural maneuvers, not unlike this reported move from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Another difference: The AFL-CIO ran ads back in 1996 targeting Republicans for resisting a popular measure.

(Source: New York Times via Scher)

Why did these Republicans finally do the right thing? In many cases it was because the “Overton window” was facing in the right direction, thanks to some hard work and effective communication.

There’s a lesson in that: Make the case for what is right — and do it fearlessly, because it is right. When the time for expediency arrives, you may find that the limits of the possible have changed.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...