Along the way, I sought the opinions of many people. I had an active advisory committee that studied issues and recommended specific courses of action, and I had an informal network of “regular folk” who advised me (occasionally solicited) on what I should of shouldn’t be doing.
On one such occasion, a large agricultural producer in the county and I were having a conversation about worker wages. This individual told me what he typically paid his workers. He added that he also gave them a place to live, rent free, and provided them a quarter of a beef yearly. I asked him about how many hours a week of work he expected for this, and he replied that the average work week was between 50-60 hours. Calculating quickly in my mind, I mentioned that this wasn’t really much above minimum wage, and that if this individual was married and had children, the family would, in all probability, be eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid and Low-Income Energy Assistance (LEAP). He replied, “Don’t I know it — I tell them to apply; I consider those their fringe benefits.”
I was thinking about this conversation recently as I was pondering the current discussion about raising the minimum wage, and it occurred to me that raising the minimum wage should actually appeal to us conservatives because it elevates people out of poverty and has the potential of greatly reducing “welfare” dependency. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a report indicating that raising the minimum wage to slightly over $10 per hour, would move 900,000 out of poverty (and potentially off of public assistance.)
Interestingly, a December Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 53 percent of self-described “conservatives” favored an increase in the minimum wage, so I am left to wonder why so many of our conservative Republican legislators have such a difficult time embracing this notion. They will cite fear of increased unemployment and increased consumer costs, but with the levels of unemployment we’re still experiencing, this would create a relatively minor bump, especially when compared to the number of people it would move out of poverty.
A recent editorial in the Washington Post brought forth the ideas of Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire and one-time Republican candidate for governor of that state. Unz believes that through wage subsidies in the tax code, Medicaid and food stamps, substantial benefits are conferring on those employing low-wage labor. Unz is proposing that his state raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour and pointed out that this “would function as a massive stimulus package.” Unz goes on to say specifically that “probably between $150 billion and $175 billion a year would go into the pockets of lower-wage families that spend every dollar they earn. It would cause a tremendous boost in economic demand.”