From both left and right, commentators have been heating up the Internet with proposals to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour.
It’s not just Ralph Nader beating the drum for the Occupy movement to spearhead a movement to raise the wage, which hasn’t been increased since 2009.
Ron Unz, commentator at the American Conservative, has proposed an increase as part of a new Republican immigration strategy, and he’s has been pleading for Mitt Romney to adopt an increase in the minimum wage as part of his campaign.
Romney has yet to heed Unz’s plea, which force the candidate to fight some ingrained Republican dogma that preaches against the minimum wage, let alone increasing it. According to this old dogma, the minimum wage discourages small business from hiring.
It was President Obama’s chairman of his council advisers, Alan Kreuger, wrote a study, back when he was a Princeton economics professor, who debunked that notion.
In the past, Romney has shown some willingness to discard the customary Republican disdain for the minimum wage, speaking in favor of increases pegged to increases in the consumer price index.
Then last month, after the Wall Street Journal and others beat up on Romney’s minimum wage position, the leading Republican contender backed down. “There’s probably not a need to raise the minimum wage,” Romney told CNBC.
On this issue, the Wall Street Journal and the Republican base is way out of step with voters across the country, who consistently support an increase. According to one recent poll, 67 percent of voters favor an increase.
Which brings us to the other candidate: the president. He’s always said he favors an increase.
Back in 2007, when he was just a contender in Bettendorf, Iowa, Barack Obama gave a speech on “Reclaiming the American Dream,” in which he promised: “I won’t wait 10 years to raise the minimum wage, I’ll raise it every single year. That’s the change we need.”
After Obama was elected, during his transition to the presidency, Obama’s team promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011, with future raises pegged to inflation “to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage.”
But the only increase during Obama’s administration was the one in 2009 from $6.55 to $7.25, which was mandated by a law passed during a previous administration.
The president had nothing to do with it.
Last year, when his labor secretary, Hilda Solis, was asked about the need for a minimum wage hike, Huffington Post reported that she “largely ducked the questions.”
Maybe keeping his campaign promise and improving the economy are not good enough reasons to recharge the president’s enthusiasm for launching a campaign to boost wages for the lowest paid workers.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other reasons that should convince him to do what he said he would.
For one, it’s simply the right thing to do.
As the president himself pointed out just four months ago in a speech with a broad populist message in Osawatomie, Kansas, income inequality is the “defining issue of our time.”
In 1968, the federal minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. Gasoline was 34 cents a gallon and an average new car cost $2,800 dollars.
So the worker on minimum wage could buy nearly 5 gallons of gas for an hour’s wage. Now that minimum wage worker can buy less than 2 gallons of gas for an hour’s wage.
If you adjust that 1968 wage for inflation, it would be $10 an hour – far more than today’s $7.25 minimum wage.
As the New York Times pointed out Sunday, the average corporate CEO made $14.4 million last year, compared to the average annual U.S. salary of $45,230. A fulltime worker paid the minimum wage makes far less – $15,080 a year.
Correcting for inflation, those with the least income have seen their incomes reduced over the past decade.
Another good reason for Obama to get with it– his base, which has been frustrated with his compromises with Republicans and cave-ins to bailed-out bankers, strongly supports an increase. And so do independent voters. Obama needs both of those groups to win re-election. So doing the right thing is also smart politics.