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.
No Lobbyist Left Behind
If we forced CNN commentators to wear the names of their clients on their sleeves like NASCAR drivers we might have a deeper, more honest debate over what’s going on in Washington.
Unless you live under a rock without any form of media, it’s hard to miss the nonstop frenzy over dumb comments made by CNN commentator Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney.
Rosen said Romney never worked a day in her life, which made her unqualified to comment on the economy. Republicans then attacked Rosen as another in a long line of Democratic elitists who have no respect for women who work in the home.
When she comments on CNN, the network labels Rosen a “Democratic strategist,” though they don’t disclose any particular strategy that she’s come up with.
CNN doesn’t mention her work representing many high-profile clients in Washington, D.C. with interests across a wide range of issues. Her firm, SKDKnickerbocker is filled with former government employees cashing in on their contacts on behalf of their corporate clients. The firm, which includes President Obama’s former communications director Anita Dunn as managing director, isn’t required to disclose clients because it doesn’t acknowledge that what it does is lobbying. In Washington-speak the firm is “political consulting and public relations firm.”
Last year, Bloomberg Business week reported that the firm coordinated an army of lobbyists unleashed by a coalition led by Google, Apple and Cisco pushing for a tax holiday.
The Republic Report compiled a partial list of clients, including big railroads, agricultural interests, PepsiCo and General Mills and for-profit education companies.
In addition, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Dunn pitched SKDKnickerbocker’s services as part of a team that offered to restore hedge funds’ sullied reputations, though apparently nobody swung.
Rosen’s poke at Ann Romney may have stirred up media frenzy, offering just the excuse for a jive revival of jive working mom v. stay-at-home brawl that sheds no light and offers no insight to anybody.
It’s also not the kind of controversy that’s likely to upset Rosen’s clients, who will recognize it for the sideshow it is compared to their free-flowing access to the White House. It’s more likely that it will provide Rosen with an opportunity for some good-natured self-deprecating humor to grease her way as she makes the rounds through the corridors of power.
The Obama administration has made a big deal about how it holds itself to a higher standard by not taking money from lobbyists. But that doesn’t mean lobbyists don’t have a strong presence in the White House, as the New York Times reported Saturday. “Many of the president’s biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits,” the Times reported.
Several years ago, GOOD magazine came up with the idea of making politicians wear suits with the names of their biggest contributors, like NASCAR drivers advertise their sponsors. Politicians have been reluctant to embrace the idea. They’re perfectly happy to keep us focused on the sideshow provided by Rosen and those like her, who babble phony nonsense on TV but profit from their access to the real game off-screen.