Out of The Spotlight

The Public Supports Raising the Minimum Wage. What about the Politicians?

"Out of the Spotlight" Posting for June 16, 2011

For decades, those opposed to raising the minimum wage have portrayed it as a “job killer,” arguing that when employers are forced to pay more, they employ fewer people.

Increasingly though public support for such a position is diminishing. In fact, during these deeply polarizing times, raising the minimum wage is an issue with widespread, bi-partisan backing. Between 67 and 86 percent of voters support an increase in the minimum wage, according to polls taken over the past few years.

New research reinforces this majority view. At a recent event cosponsored by the Center for American Progress and the National Employment Law Project, titled Raising the Minimum Wage, Rebuilding the Economy, a panel of experts explained rigorous economic research that further refutes the “job killer” construct and reviewed public opinion polling on the subject.

In the 1960s and 70s there was general consensus that the minimum wage would hurt employment, but in the past two decades empirical research has debunked this theory. Two papers coming out of the University of California/Berkeley, “Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders” and “Do Minimum Wages Really Reduce Teen Employment?,” add depth and breadth to the evidence that raising the minimum wage does not have the negative effect on employment that economists once thought it did.

The papers look at county-level employment data as well as national statistics. Differing state minimum wage laws provide empirical evidence of how wage legislation affects the labor market. And the proof is in the pudding: Where minimum wages have increased there has not been a loss of employment compared with labor markets where there was no increase.

Panelists also explained how raising the minimum wage is good for economic recovery. Higher wages puts more money into the hands of people who are most likely to spend it quickly and stimulate the economy. Polling shows that the public intuitively understands this, and research on wages over the three most recent recessions backs it up. As Helen Neuborne from the Ford Foundation put it, raising the minimum wage is a “win-win policy” for working families and our country’s economy.

In states across the country where minimum wage initiatives are being introduced, public opinion and vote tallies are often strong. In Maryland, where 62 percent of voters say that the economy is in trouble, 79 percent are in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10, with more than half saying it would help the economy. In Missouri an initiative to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation passed by a more than a three-to-one margin, with strong support across party lines.

Few economic policies have such widespread public support. As the next round of elections approaches, politicians should keep that in mind as they present their plans for economic recovery.


Posted by Milla

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Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn't always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact mlaracy@aecf.org or watersboots@hotmail.com