Sort by

Is Raising the Minimum Wage a Small and Stale Idea?

David Callahan

One line of attack on a minimum wage hike is that it's small potatoes -- and further testament to the intellectual poverty of liberalism. As Marco Rubio said recently, speaking of both the minimum wage and other Obama proposals:

Really? That is their solution to what President Obama has identified as the defining issue of our time? Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American Dream. 
Other skeptics have noted that very few Americans actually make the minimum wage, and so this is yet another progressive idea that only helps those at the very bottom while bypassing the middle class voters who keep going Republican because Democrats don't offer ideas for improving their lives. (Romney won voters making between $50k and $100k by a solid six points.) 
Of course, though, it's silly to say that raising the minimum wage is central to Obama's economic agenda, since he barely mentioned this idea during his first term -- a period he spent reforming healthcare and finance, two dysfunctional sectors that have badly burned the middle class in recent years. Nor did Obama say much about the minimum wage in his first State of the Union address after reelection -- instead focusing much of his attention on controlling college costs, another kitchen table issue that bedevils the middle and upper middle class -- and another big sector where the president recognizes the need for reform. 
So raising the minimum wage is definitely not the Democrats' big idea. It is an idea, and one that is popping now thanks to an overdue focus on low-wage work. It's also a proposal that resides within a bigger idea: namely, that low-skilled work needs to be better paid in economy that produces so many lousy jobs (and which will for the foreseeable future). And, yes, while that bigger idea is hardly innovative, who cares? It worked before to advance the American Dream -- when all those monotonous factory and mining jobs were unionized in the 20th century, allowing high school grads to afford the white picket fence life (on one paycheck) and a secure retirement. 
Marco Rubio is right that we must find a way to produce more skilled "better paying jobs." But even if we do that, the economy will still create lots and lots of low-skilled jobs. Anyone who works one of those jobs deserves to be decently paid -- not consigned to poverty. This idea is anything but small. It's core to who we are as a nation: In America, work should be rewarded.