Last Modified: Monday, January 06, 2014 12:29 PM
A proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over two years and tying it to inflation will be a key campaign theme for Democrats before the November 2014 mid-term congressional elections. It is an example of the class warfare that is being waged by President Obama, many members of his party and liberal organizations around the country.
Republicans are expected to oppose the increase, saying it would be coming at a time when the national economy is still struggling. Opponents are also saying it would increase unemployment and hurt many of the workers it is designed to help.
Make no mistake. Democrats are going to come out swinging. They know Obamacare has hurt their political chances, and they plan to come up with their own crusade. The minimum wage increase will highlight that effort, but there is more.
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said, “This election is going to be about who’s got your back. Republicans continue to show they have the back of powerful special interests. Democrats have the back of the middle class.”
Democrats will say Republicans have trouble connecting with women, non-whites and younger Americans, according to The Associated Press. And they will try to capitalize on the rift between tea-party and establishment Republicans.
Republican leaders insist voters aren’t going to buy the class warfare Democrats are promoting.
“It’s a tried-and-tested part of the liberal playbook to use the politics of class warfare, and we don’t anticipate it to be successful,” Jesse Benton, a GOP political adviser, told National Journal. “It’s divisive and not productive.”
The political news magazine said, “Democrats increasingly view championing the pay of hourly workers as a can’t-lose issue that revs up their base of liberal, black and Hispanic voters. Perhaps more important, it also resonates with the white, blue-collar workers who overwhelmingly side with Republicans.”
The AFL-CIO is also pushing a minimum wage increase. Organized labor was behind many of the protests in support of a higher wage. Unions that have lost support in recent years see the potential for new members if the wage issue is successful.
Like the idea or not, there are a number of reasons why Republicans and other opponents might want to consider some kind of minimum wage increase. Polls show the American people support it by wide margins, states are moving quickly to increase their own minimum wages and all of the groups that helped elect Obama in 2012 are expected to give an increase wide support.
A National Journal poll in December showed 71 percent of Americans believe the minimum wage should be increased. The Washington, D.C., political news magazine said 39 percent of those favor an increase to $10 an hour. African-Americans support the increase by 91 percent, and it is favored by 74 percent of women. A November Gallup poll showed 76 percent support, including Republicans at 58 percent, whites at 72 percent and Southerners at 80 percent.
USA Today reported last month that minimum wages in 21 states on Jan. 1 would exceed the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. The wage went up in 13 states on that date, ranging from a high of $9.32 in Washington state to a low of $7.50 an hour in Missouri. The newspaper said 11 other states and the nation’s capital will be considering minimum wage increases this year.
Voter turnout isn’t expected to be as high this November as it was in 2012, but the groups that supported Obama would favor a minimum wage increase. The president won 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, 73 percent of the Asian vote and 59 percent of the youth vote (18 to 29-year-olds). Those are numbers that cannot be ignored by Republicans and others who oppose an increase in the minimum wage.
The Times-Picayune last February said raising the minimum wage would have a big impact in Louisiana. It noted the state has a 32.3 percent poverty rate, sixth highest among the 50 states. Mississippi has the largest poverty rate in the country.
The federal poverty rate for a family of four is $23,550 annually. For couples, the rate is $15,510 a year. Fulltime workers who are paid the minimum wage make $14,500 a year, which is lower than both of those poverty rate numbers.
The newspaper said the 2010 Census showed Louisiana had over 165,000 workers making less than $10,000 a year, over 118,000 making between $10,000 and $14,999 and nearly 214,000 making between $15,000 and $24,999. So, nearly a half-million of the state’s 4.6 million residents are making less than the federal poverty level.
You can be sure there will be an effort at the regular session of the Legislature to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana. However, it will have tough sledding if past efforts are a good barometer. The session begins March 10 and ends June 2.
Meanwhile, watch the political party jockeying that will take place over the next 10 months. As much as diehard conservatives hate the word, Republicans need to give some serious thought to compromising on the minimum wage issue. They don’t have to give away the store.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or email@example.com.
Posted By: Milton Reese, Gueydan native/New Orleans resident On: 1/7/2014
Title: Minimum Wage a lightening rod
I've read your columns for decades and like them.
The focus here is Economics. Any countryboy knows that if the cost of labor rises that leads to loss of competitiveness. Eventually, you price your product out of the market as labor cost rises. That will lead to further unemployment. Is that what we need?
I think we need good economics explained to the public expecially around election time. That is what you need to talk about.
Posted By: Robert Boxer On: 1/6/2014
I recently wrote an article about how an increase in the minimum wage rate increases unemployment. You can read it here: http://wp.me/p3N9zD-4e