If you check out Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ website, across the top is the banner statement:
“Nobody who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.”
Part of his plan to tackle that issue includes raising the federal hourly minimum wage to $15, a proposal that has many conservatives leaning on old arguments that a higher minimum wage kills jobs, hurts small businesses, and only benefits teenagers.
There are plenty of studies that will lend support to arguments both for and against a higher minimum wage, but the debate is really about economic insecurity. Political “outsiders” like Sanders, and even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, recognize how angry many Americans are when it comes to economic disparity.
The reality is that middle and lower class Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are in the same boat. They struggle to pay their bills, to find affordable housing and healthcare, and to find good paying jobs. Extremists like Trump push a finger-pointing agenda that blames everyone from immigrants to ISIS for the lack of economic opportunity and many conservatives buy it.
Income and wealth inequality are central to Sanders’ bid for the presidential nomination, but instead of resorting to name calling, he’s pushing for reforms like a hike in minimum wage and free college to help bridge the gap and raise the standard of living for those who struggle.
Debating the effectiveness of raising the minimum wage is almost a moot point. It’s happening, whether people like it not. In 2016, 14 states kicked off the new year with higher wages. Just this week, Oregon passed the highest minimum wage in America and the first minimum wage law that has multiple tiers tied to cost of living by area.
New Jersey’s top Democrats are joining forces to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Under their proposal, it won’t happen all at once, but with gradual increases based on the Consumer Price Index. Governor Chris Christie may block the legislation, with a spokesperson saying there is “absolutely no end to what Democrats in the legislature will do to kill jobs, drive major businesses out of New Jersey and destroy an economy that is on the rebound.”
Again, the same stale arguments rebutting the proposal, but they hit home with Americans who see others as getting “hand outs,” instead of paying their fair share, when in reality the economic struggle is across party and class lines. We need real solutions and not rhetoric aimed to build political support on anger.
Even the U.S. Department of Labor has a “Minimum Wage Mythbusters” website, which explains that the “typical minimum wage worker is not a high school student earning weekend pocket money.” Instead, the government points out 89 percent of those who would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase to $12 an hour are 20-years-old or older, and more than half are women.
The US DOL also states that hundreds of economists including 7 Nobel Prize winners believe raising wages reduces employee turnover. They also say “research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $12, from the current level of $7.25 an hour. However, her arguments for it sound like more like an establishment mantra and hardly inspire hope. $12.50 is just not far enough for many progressives who look at the rate of inflation and how far behind we have fallen from what “minimum wage” used to mean. Like many other things, Hillary’s stance on the minimum wage is more compromise.
The heart of the minimum wage debate centers around economic insecurity, and those Americans who feel it the most. A lot of Americans are mad. Trump knows it, Sanders knows it. People feel disenfranchised and powerless to improve their quality of life.
Raising the minimum wage may be one solution to help tackle the economic disparity, but most conservatives are only using the issue to stoke fears that it’s bordering on a type of “entitlement program.”
Even for those concerned about Bernie’s socialist views, at least the Vermont senator’s proposals are driving a real discussion about sincere solutions. His official website also states: “This is your movement. They have the money, but we have the people.” The people want money too, fairly earned and with opportunities for all, not just a few.