Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 2, 2014

House of Burgess: Minimum wage still a joke

Obama: Raise it from $7.25 to $10.10

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— On Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden — filling in for traveling President Barack Obama — delivered the The White House’s Weekly Address. The remarks were revealingly titled, “Raise The Minimum Wage – It’s The Right Thing To Do For Hardworking Americans.”

“The big difference between giving a raise in the minimum wage instead of a tax break to the very wealthy is the minimum-wage worker will go out and spend every penny of it because they’re living on the edge,” said Biden. “They’ll spend it in the local economy. They need it to pay their electric bill, put gas in their automobile, to buy fundamental necessities. And this generates economic growth in their communities.”

Biden is right. Seriously, what do you think people will do with a bit more money in their paycheck? Spend it, of course! This is America, after all.

Our economy depends on the concept of continuous consumption to function. Fortunately, other national politicians have been joining in the fight, including Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who has been campaigning hard for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in his city.

“Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy on Thursday signed into law a measure that will phase in the highest minimum wage of any state, in line with a push by Democrats nationwide to raise the entry-level wage,” reported Richard Weizel of Reuters on Thursday. “The bill, which was approved by state legislators a day earlier, will raise the state’s minimum hourly rate to $10.10, a figure that matches what President Obama has asked Congress to consider imposing nationally.”

Raising the minimum wage above $10 would instantly save taxpayers billions in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding alone.

“More than half (52 percent) of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the workforce as a whole,” stated a University of California at Berkeley and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report, “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry,” released Oct. 15, 2013. “The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry is nearly $7 billion per year.”

This is corporate welfare by another name and by an oblique method. Employers pay such low wages their employees cannot afford food, housing and health costs — and those costs are then met by the state. It is in this way employers maximize their own profits, while the American taxpayers pick up the tab. This fact was brought to the forefront in Ohio during the run-up to last Thanksgiving.

“The Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton, Ohio is collecting food for employees who can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner,” reported The Plain Dealer’s Olivera Perkins on Nov. 18, 2013. The same month in another part of the same state, a similar scene was playing itself out at another Walmart. “The Franklin, Ohio location confirmed to us that they, too, are collecting food donations for their employees,” reported WRGT-TV.

Since we’re talking about Walmart anyhow, let’s discuss the economic fortunes of the founding Walton family. “Between 2007 and 2010, while median family wealth fell by 38.8 percent, the wealth of the Walton family members rose from $73.3 billion to $89.5 billion,” wrote Josh Bivens of The Economic Policy Institute on July 17, 2012. “It is now the case that the Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families in the wealth distribution (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined.”

When I filed my original Oct. 2, 2013 column on this subject, “Minimum wage is a complete joke,” I was taken aback by the vitriol it inspired in some people. I’m pretty sure none of them were members of the Walton family, but you wouldn’t know it from their tone. How could you be against something that would so obviously help our economy?

It seems the greatest trick the plutocrats of this country ever pulled was to convince the rest of us to attack each other whilst they remain spectacularly wealthy.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.