|Whenever someone brings up the idea of
raising the minimum wage, people who oppose the move have an almost universal response:
"How much is enough? Why not raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour? Or
$20? Heck, let's just raise it to $100 an hour!"
This is a great way to both mollify your supporters and quiet your opponent
because it raises the boogeyman of an open-ended minimum wage. And we all know that if we raise the minimum wage too much,
economic chaos will ensue.
Or something like that.
I haven't heard a good response to this yet.
The minimum wage issue has been raised in state and national politics recently,
with the two major parties taking up their traditional positions.
Like many issues, the minimum wage is a fun political football for these
two teams to scrimmage over -- with neither side ever really making a big play or scoring. They just go back and forth.
Ultimately, this issue makes for better press than policy, and that's a
shame. We all know there won't be any significant change in the minimum wage, no matter how much chest thumping and podium
pounding goes on.
Basically, it will go up 10 or 20 cents per hour. Some will claim a victory
and others will say they held the line as best they could. This has been the way of things my entire life, and I am confident
that it will stay that way.
So whenever I hear a candidate start talking about the minimum wage, I
know that much of what follows is political pandering.
All of this is because no one answers the question, "How much is enough?"
Because I haven't heard a good response to that question, I came up with
a simple one myself.
Think of it as a classic logical if/then statement. If our government defines
poverty as X, and our government subsidizes businesses with loans, grants and tax breaks, then the government should be able
to require businesses with employees to pay a wage that is equal to or exceeds X.
For this idea to work, I think that we should all be able to agree on a
Poverty is bad.
Government subsidy of business is good.
Businesses that receive government subsidy should be subject to certain
conditions set by the government.
Workers who put in 40 hours per week should be paid wages that meet or
exceed the poverty level set by the government that subsidizes business.
When we use this formula, we take the teeth out of the mouth of the "how
much is enough" boogeyman. We're no longer talking about $10, $20 or $100 per hour. We are not talking about some random,
What is left is a reasonable number set by forces that transcend party
politics. The government has been tracking and defining poverty for decades, no matter who was in power.
I don't want our society's compassion measured by how many government programs
we have in place for the poor. Let's measure our compassion by how few poor people we have in our society. Paying people above-poverty
wages is a good start.
I truly believe that if someone works full time, they should be able to
earn enough money to be above the federally defined poverty level. This is especially true if an employer is receiving any
subsidy from the government.
Mike Sawin is a longtime Central Minnesota resident. His column is published
the third Wednesday of the month.