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Minimum wage not two-sided

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Often, political battles in Washington seem to continue on with no possible compromise in sight.
The minimum wage is not one of those battles.

Sometimes, the political issues of one week’s news cycle are so abstract they make you wonder whether they will really affect your life.
The minimum wage is not one of those issues.

And many times, D.C.’s debates are so frivolous, they make you wonder why the topic even deserves the ink that’s used to write about them.

The minimum wage is not one of those debates.

The minimum wage debate is a consequential one, a debate whose outcome will affect the economy and the everyday lives of many Americans. And it’s a debate that, perhaps most surprising of all, is conducive to compromises that will offer something to those on both sides of the issue.

The problem thus far has been that neither Republicans nor Democrats are interested in listening to what their opponents have to say on the issue; they’re concerned more with the party talking points than finding common ground.

It begs the question — if two sides are talking, yet neither side is listening, is it really a debate at all?

On the Democrats’ side, President Obama has pushed for a minimum wage hike from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour for several months now.

“It’s time to give America a raise,” the president is fond of saying, as if it were that easy. He’s also fond of saying that no person who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty, a statement that is harder to disagree with.

What Democrats and the president won’t address are Republicans’ concerns that the minimum wage hike they’re asking for could cost up to 500,000 American jobs, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported last month.

Democrats are all too eager to paint Republicans as insensitive to the realities and struggles of working class Americans. Yet it falls on deaf ears when Republicans insist that they do care about hard working Americans, which is precisely why they want to save a half a million of their jobs.

The GOP’s concern that a minimum wage hike will lead to an increase in unemployment in an economy where unemployment remains stubbornly high is a genuine one. As many Republicans have said, the issue can be boiled down to simple economics: as the price of something (employment) becomes more expensive, you are able to offer less of it. The GOP is right to be concerned over higher unemployment in a still fragile economy.

Still, the conversation does not end there and cannot end there, as much as some members of the GOP might like for that to happen. Republicans in Congress have largely ignored the reality that $7.25 is not a living wage in America today. Boosting the minimum wage by nearly three dollars might not be the answer, but allowing an individual in the world’s richest nation to work full time and make $15,000 a year is not an acceptable alternative either.

Of course, there are real alternatives to keeping the minimum wage at its current level and boosting it to $10.10, although it’s often hard to remember that, given Democrats’ and Republicans’ insistence that it’s their way or the high way.

One common sense option is a smaller minimum wage hike to $9.00 an hour, as Neil King’s article in the Wall Street Journal suggested on Feb. 24.

A $9.00 minimum wage would lift nearly 300,000 people out of poverty while raising the incomes of 7.6 million people and would constitute the largest minimum wage hike in nearly 40 years, all while causing virtually no pain to the economy, according to the article.

Another alternative to the $10.10 minimum wage is promoting the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to target low-wage workers, an option Conor Durkin detailed in his Viewpoint piece on Feb. 19 (“Finding a better solution than $10.10”).

There are alternatives out there that offer something to both parties. However, as long as both parties continue to stick to their talking points and refuse to engage in a real debate, those alternatives will never be realized.

The minimum wage is not a two-sided issue. Republicans and Democrats alike would be well served if they stop acting like it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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