A bill passed last week to increase Delaware’s minimum wage to $10.50/hour – in 2020.
I should be celebrating. After all, the Delaware Senate actually managed to pass a bill last week that would increase Delaware’s paltry minimum wage to $10.50 an hour.
So why am I writing this column instead of dancing in the street?
Well, for starters the bill would only grow the minimum wage, currently $8.25 an hour, by 50 cents a year. So workers wouldn’t actually see $10.50 an hour until the year 2020.
Republicans, who all voted against the paltry increase, were able to gin up enough opposition to force Democrats to discard an important part of the bill that would have made the minimum wage grow to match cost of living increases. They were also able to nix an amendment that would have raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
And then there’s Governor Markell, who didn’t really come out and support this latest push to increase Delaware’s minimum wage.
In a statement, Markell said he “supports continuing to work to ensure the minimum wage is at an appropriate level,” echoing comments he made last year about pursuing an “agenda around growth rather than an agenda around redistribution.”
It’s that “appropriate level” comment that concerns me.
According to a study by MIT, a living wage in Delaware is $10.42 an hour for one adult. So the Senate bill would mean thousands of minimum wage earners in Delaware would finally make enough to live on, something I consider a good thing but Republicans (and possibly Markell) consider a hand-out.
“Is it not better to get them started on this employment ladder to learn responsibility so they can advance in life,” David Lawson, R-Marydel asked. “As long as they’re given freebies, as long as they can live at home and be on their parents’ insurance until 26 years of age, they don’t learn responsibility.”
I guess Lawson would rather see his constituents working multiple jobs to make ends meet. He’s also not willing to criticize big employers, like Wal-Mart and McDonalds, that use federal benefits to subsidize low wages.
That’s the mindset we’re facing – that minimum wage workers are just looking for handouts, and their greed will cost their fellow co-workers their jobs.
On the contrary, in a letter urging a minimum wage increase, over 600 economists (including 7 Nobel Prize winners) said increases have little or no negative effect on employment.
According to these studies, it’s more likely that a minimum wage hike will have a stimulative effect on the economy, as low-wage workers are more likely to spend their additional earnings on necessities like food, housing, clothing and transportation.
But, arguing against minimum wage increases is nothing new for companies.
Back in the 1930s, the National Association of Manufactures argued enacting a minimum wage, “constitutes a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.” Backwards Congressmen like Georgia Democrat Edward Cox said creating a minimum wage would “destroy small industry” and warned that it would replace our free market, exploit workers economy to “Red Labor communistic despotism.”
Compare that to Matt Crockett, employed in the Sussex County farming industry, who told the Senate committee in January that the increase would “destroy businesses” and put the country “one step closer to socialism.”
Crockett’s comments echo what you hear from restaurant owners, who reflexively claim that any increase in the minimum wage will force them to cut staff and increase prices, and probably go out of business entirely.
I wonder if they read a new study by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, which shows moderate increased in the minimum wage don’t have negative effects on the restaurant industry.”While we don’t see strong impacts on employment, we do find consistent evidence that raising the minimum wage increases the total earnings of the restaurant workforce,” said co-author Christopher Boone. “Restaurants are likely to see some benefits as well, since better compensated employees tend to be happier, more productive and less likely to quit their jobs. So we think the restaurant industry should support reasonable increases in the regular and tipped minimum wages.”
So raising the minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs, it doesn’t bankrupt businesses and it helps both workers and companies alike. It also helps move workers off expensive state and federal benefits, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
So critics, it’s time to give up your ignorance and ideological rigidity and support raising the minimum wage. It’s so noncontroversial, even Mitt Romney is in favor of it.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe