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Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

A Cynical Interpretation of the Minimum Wage Push

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Annie Lowrey ends a recent column on the effort to raise the minimum wage on an appropriately cynical note:

Raising the minimum wage is hardly a panacea. For one, it does little for the millions of struggling families who have higher hourly wages or a salary. Second, the strongest division between those below the poverty line and those just above it is work itself. Raising the minimum wage does little to help the millions of Americans looking for a job.

Messy economics aside, the cynicism of Washington’s political class might ultimately lead to the increase. The minimum wage’s value has eroded over time, and raising it is hugely popular among voters. Corporate profits are well north of a trillion dollars a year. The federal government, meanwhile, continues to run in the red. Unlike any other form of wealth redistribution, raising the minimum wage is basically cost-free to Washington. If it won’t hurt the unemployment rate — as some research suggests — Washington figures, why not slip those fast-food joints the bill?

Earlier on, however, she quotes a Costco executive on the subject:

Craig Jelinek, the C.E.O. of Costco, agrees. “Paying employees good wages makes good sense for business,” he said earlier this year, calling for a federal minimum-wage increase. (Costco pays a starting wage of $11.50 an hour in all states where it does business.) “We know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term,” Jelinek said, “to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.” He should know; he started his career as a checkout boy.

• Category: National, Notable • Tags: Reihan Salam