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

Raising the Minimum Wage Isn't Just Good Politics. It's Good Economics, Too

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The minimum-wage debate follows a predictable pattern any time it flares up in the media: Liberals say it’s a moral outrage that people can toil away at full-time jobs and still live in poverty. They nod at the overwhelming public support for raising the minimum wage as a way to shame reluctant politicians. Conservatives, for their part, insist that all the minimum-wage talk is just self-defeating do-gooder-ism: great for making Upper-West-Siders feel righteous, a lot less so for helping the people they claim to care about. In the real world, conservatives argue, raising the minimum wage costs jobs that the poor and young desperately need. At which point liberals mumble defensively and retreat to their original talking points, if they respond at all.

Monday’s New York Times piece on the renewed push for a minimum-wage increase is a handy case in point. The writers of the story—a nice, scoop-filled piece of reporting—talk about the issue’s potential to split Republican elites from the party’s voters, in classic wedge fashion. Intriguingly, they suggest it could goose turnout among young people and minorities, two Democratic-leaning groups that often vanish during midterm elections. And, of course, the story includes a de rigueur warning of doom and destruction from House Speaker John Boehner–“Why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”—which goes largely unanswered by anyone on the left.

Well, that’s no good. Yes, the politics of the issue sufficiently favor Democrats that they can ignore the GOP’s economic argument—Republicans may resist, but that will only help Democrats on Election Day. But as White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer correctly points out to the Times, the hope isn’t just to retain a few Senate seats. It’s to improve people’s lives.

If they’re serious about doing that, Democrats can’t cede the intellectual fight. They have to expose the House GOP position for what it is—water-carrying for business, particularly the fast-food restaurateurs who are leading employers of minimum-wage workers and donate overwhelmingly to the GOP. Until that happens, Republicans will be able to hold out with a patina of respectability among mainstream journalists and commentators, who largely accept the GOP’s job-killing claims.

• Category: National, Notable • Tags: Noam Scheiber