Minimum wage outrage

Am I the only one who finds something elitist about people– mostly on the left but also on the right– who make Tweedledee-Tweedledum comparisons between Democrats and Republicans?

Here’s yet another example: Republicans in the Senate are blocking a Democratic effort to increase the minimum wage for the first time in seven years. Now this may not matter much to some ideologues who earn comfortably more than the minimum wage, but it matters a hell of a lot to millions of poor families struggling to get by at or near the current wage floor of $5.15 an hour.

As the Washington Post reports: In a speech to the Senate, [Sen. Ted] Kennedy said that minimum wage employees working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earn $10,700 a year, or $4,500 below the poverty line for a family of three. The value of the increase that Congress approved seven years ago has eroded to the point that their wages are worth less now than they were before the last increase, he added.

During those seven years, members of Congress have raised their own pay by $21,000, Kennedy said. “It’s shameful that members of Congress have raised their own pay . . . without giving the nation’s lowest-paid workers any increase at all,” he added.

Well, yes. But here’s another thought: Why are those on the political right– even those who claim to support family values and self-reliance– so damn stingy about the minimum wage (if they don’t oppose it entirely)?

Yes I know the ancient conservative case against minimum wage increases: They force low-wage employers to eliminate jobs! Excuse me for not buying this. The 1997 increase didn’t exactly bring the job growth of that era to a screeching halt. And the absence of an increase since then didn’t prevent the recent leap in unemployment.

Something else: Aren’t those who get up early five mornings a week, travel to work (often long distances on public transportation), and work hard for eight or more hours entitled to a reasonable standard of living for themselves and their families: a decent place to live, enough to eat, enough to pay utility bills. (I won’t even mention health insurance.) Aren’t families who have these things more likely to stay together than families who don’t?

And don’t forget that minimum-wage workers often depend on federal programs like food stamps, Medicaid and rental subsidies to get by. In effect the federal government is subsidizing the low wages of private employers to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Isn’t this the sort of thing that ought to keep conservatives awake at night?

Hypocrisy? On the right? Nah!