Raising and Indexing the Federal Minimum Wage

Citizen Wealth Ideas and Issues

New Orleans   There was a picture in the New York Times claiming to be Dan Cantor (sure didn’t look like him?) of the New York State Working Families Party who was advocating an increase in the state minimum wage.  Jen Kern, a career minimum wage expert as former coordinator of ACORN’s Minimum Wage Resource Center and now with the National Employment Law Project in DC, was also quoted at length on the benefits of raising the minimum.  It felt like old home week and the calendar turning back a decade.  One of those, the more things change the more they stay the same stories.

There is too much déjà vu in this campaign.

Once again, just like in the Clinton first term, we have a Democratic President that has not raised the federal minimum wage. Despite Jen’s skills and other voices rising, there won’t be an increase in the federal minimum wage this year on the eve of an election.  There may be 1.8 million workers as Steven Greenhouse points out who are stuck at the minimum wage with another 2.5 million trapped beneath $7.25, but if this part of the vote is registered and not too suppressed, these are people voting more with their feet than with ballots and if they make it there, most will vote for Obama anyway, so little sweat will be expended in this direction.  Once again our only real hope will be that if Obama is re-elected, then perhaps there will be a bump before the end of the 2nd term following the Clinton pattern.

Looking at the 18 states with minimums over the federal level, it is surprising to me how narrow the compression is between what states have done and what Congress has allowed.  I need to do more research on this in coming days.  In some cases I fear that I have not kept up and the erosion of power at the state level by organizations and the surge by the right and groups like ALEC, may have erased some of the victories around citizen wealth won in recent years.  Florida in 2004 for example voted for an increase $1 over the federal minimum with an index.  Now, the index to inflation seems to have survived, but the dollar seems to have disappeared with Florida at $7.67 only a bit more than $0.40 over the federal level.  It also appears that we may have erred in withdrawing ballot initiatives in states like Arkansas and Michigan and accepting legislative increases, which now have allowed those states to simply pay the same rate as the federal level.

The Working Families Party is right.  The changes have to come at the state level if there is going to be real progress, but we finally have to make permanent indexing to inflation part of the package, or we need to step aside and let others carry the weight.

We won a statewide initiative in Missouri to increase the minimum wage after losing an earlier effort.  Now reportedly yet another coalition is amassing signatures to once again try to raise the wage now stuck at the federal $7.25 level.  We can’t keep doing this over and over again and now managing to make change permanent.

We need to look to make these changes at the state level, but we need to add indexing and we need to embed language that would require any rollback in the minimum wage to go to the voters, rather than allowing counter revolutions to wipe away these gains for working families.

Time to learn some lessons!