A Modest Proposal: Step 2, Raise the minimum wage!

A Modest Proposal: Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy

In my initial installment of this series, I proposed, “Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy.” With this column, I would like to explain and defend my second proposal. I invite commentary and analysis.

2. Raise the Minimum Wage ““ I think it would be a good idea to raise the minimum wage to $10.00 per hour. It is currently $5.85 per hour.($8.00 in Massachusetts.) I would also shorten the workweek to 35 hours to give people more free time for recreation and education.

Raising the minimum wage would put a lot more money into circulation and would stimulate the economy. Most of the people who would benefit from this new policy would spend their money on goods and services that they presently do without. For all of these people, it would mean more money above the subsistence wage that they are presently earning. These people are the working poor. They are for the most part the invisible poor. Visible or not they are a reality in the current American economy.
The economist Holly Sklar is a widely published op-ed columnist and author. She is co-author of “Raise The Floor: Wages and Policies That Work For All Of Us,” which Barbara Ehrenreich calls, “A commanding work and powerful tool for the living wage movement.” She is a contributor to numerous high school and college text anthologies and is a frequent guest on talk radio.
She tells us,

“The number of Americans in poverty is a group so large it would take the combined populations of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, plus Arkansas to match it. That’s according to the Census Bureau’s latest count of 37 million people below the poverty line.
Millions more Americans can’t afford adequate health care, housing, child care, food, transportation and other basic expenses above the official poverty thresholds, which are set too low. The poverty threshold for a single person under age 65 was just $9,827 in 2004. For a two-adult, two-child family, it was just $19,157.
By contrast, the Economic Policy Institute’s Basic Family Budget Calculator says the national median basic needs budget (including taxes and tax credits) for a two-parent, two-child family was $39,984 in 2004. It was $38,136 in New Orleans and $33,636 in Biloxi, Mississippi.
America is becoming a downwardly mobile society instead of an upwardly mobile society. Median household income fell for the fifth year in a row to $44,389 in 2004 — down from $46,129 in 1999, adjusting for inflation.”

Under my proposal, if the principal wage-earner was paid $10.00 an hour for a 35 hour work week, their family income would be $17,500.00. This would not eliminate poverty, but would put a floor under it. With family assistance for the working poor, in the form of tax credits or income credits, we could effectively insure that no family lived in poverty.
A higher minimum wage also helps protect the wages of workers in the higher brackets. It also promotes a greater sense of community, in that it eliminates the resentment that gross inequality in income and wealth promotes. This resentment contributes to criminal and anti-social activity.
The minimum wage would have to be indexed to inflation to protect it. To promote skilled labor, a minimum wage policy would have to include free education. By making education available to all, with free tuition, room and board, etc. we would remove a number of people from the work force and at the same time invest in future job growth for highly skilled graduates. Over time these skilled workers would pay back the system by paying their just share of taxation.
The current system will not move toward this direction unless we build a social and political movement that works to bring it into being. The current economic elite is aware of how fragile their social position is. That is why they spend so much money for lobbyists and political bribes (aka “contributions) to keep the current unjust system in place. A disciplined political organization of working people and their allies could easily overcome this. It really is just a matter of, “keeping your eyes on the prize,” as they used to say in the civil rights movement.
One thing is certain, if we do not try to build a progressive movement, then we will not have a progressive movement. If we try, we might fail. But a rational and realistic effort, very probably would succeed.
The alternative is the misery and injustice that we see around us today. To maintain that outcome, we need to do nothing.