Deriding the push for an increased minimum wage as "a great soundbite," likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a South Carolina audience on Tuesday that he opposes a federal minimum wage, arguing that the issue should be left to the states or the whims of the private sector.
Asked during a question-and-answer session whether he thought an increased minimum was a good idea and if he saw a role for government in the matter, the former Florida governor replied, "We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this."
Bush -- who has decried income inequality as he publicly weighs a 2016 presidential bid -- suggested that support for an increased minimum reflected superficial thinking on the part of the American public.
"This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure – I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s wages should be up,'" he said. "And in the case of Walmart, they have raised wages because of supply and demand and that’s good. But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education."
A CBS-New York Times poll conducted in September revealed that 70 percent of Americans support the Obama administration's proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Although that proposal has stalled in the GOP-controlled Congress, 10 states and the District of Columbia raised their minimums last year, and voters approved wage increases in another four conservative states: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
While Bush's stance seems to put him at odds with both public opinion and his professed concern for income inequality, he insisted that opposition to a federal minimum wage was consistent with his expressed worries about socioeconomic inequities.
"We’re moving to a world that is sticky in the ends, where it’s harder for people in poverty to move up and where the rich are doing really well and the middle is getting squeezed. And any idea that makes, that perpetuates that is one that I would oppose, and I think this minimum wage idea is exactly one of those things," Bush said. 'The great majority of the people that would benefit from that would shortly find that there would be some innovation, some automation, some change of business plans so that businesses could continue to make ends meet and that they would be likely the ones that would lose their job. That’s how it’s always worked.
"Now, politically, I’m sure it’s a great soundbite. But from an economic point of view this is not how we need to be successful," he continued.
As ThinkProgress' Bryce Covert points out, Bush's assertions reflect a fundamental disconnect with reality, as borne out by empirical evidence and the economic literature:
But if the minimums were simply left to companies themselves, there’s no way to know if they would raise them or let wages fall. Despite record corporate profits, wages are only growing at 2 percent year over year, the slowest rate since the 1960s. American workers have increased their productivity substantially over the past decade but experienced flat or falling wage growth. Bush pointed out that Walmartvoluntarily raised its wages, but that may at least be in part due to the fact that state minimum wage hikes forced it to increase starting pay in a third of its stores.
While Bush worries about job losses, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that higher wages don’t ruin the job market. Companies actually stand to see an increase in productivity, performance, and customer service along with a reduction in turnover and an increase in the quality of job candidates. These benefits can significantly offset the cost of paying workers more, even in low-wage jobs.
Watch Bush's remarks below: