Minimum Wage Only Rising in Small Steps Despite $15 Per Hour Demand

Minimum-Wage-101New Orleans    It seems we may be involved in a protracted bit of high-low bargaining over minimum wages in the political and policy areas.   The President has pushed for an increase of the federal minimum from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.  The minimum wage has been frozen since the last year of the Bush Administration raising fears that Obama could be the first Democratic President since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act to not see an increase in the federal minimum.  On the other side pulling the issue forward for more than a year, fast food and other workers have been calling for a wage more than double the minimum to $15 per hour.   We’re starting to get traction in some states and cities, but it’s coming in small steps not big strides, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.

Delaware has gone to $8.25 over the next year to 2015 or a solid dollar raise.  West Virginia has moved to $8.75 over the next three years to 2016, which is seventy-five cents per year.  Michigan just approved a bump to $9.25 by 2018 from $7.40 now, which is around forty-six cents per year, so let’s say around fifty.  Minnesota hiked the minimum there from $6.15 to $9.50 by 2018, a solid eighty-four cent raise annual.  Maryland and Hawaii went from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2018 a seventy-one cent per hour increase every year.  Connecticut also went to $10.10 but did so by 2017 and was already higher at $8.70, so their bump was forty-seven cents or about fifty let’s pretend per hour.  The District of Columbia, often the leader in these matters pushed up to $11.50 by 2016 from $8.25 to lead the way with an increase of a buck twelve per hour.  Governors have vetoed increases in Maine, New Mexico, and New Jersey, but the trend line is clear, and it’s rising.  The sweet spot for politicians to buckle under seems to be between fifty and seventy-five cents per hour which for lower waged minimum wage workers is something they would absolutely notice in their pay checks putting them ahead between $500 and $1000 per year, if they are fortunate enough to be working full-time.   I’m not saying it’s what they would need and certainly not what they deserve, but seeing an 8 to 10% per hour increase is something no one would hand back.

There’s nothing new about minimum wage increases being incremental or in these ranges.  The Clinton increases were fifty cents in 1996, then forty cents in 1997.   The George W. Bush increases were all seventy cents in 2007, 2008, and then 2009, the last year there was an increase five years ago.  So, the states seem to be bunching up around the same levels with some smaller jurisdictions like Delaware and DC going big and breaking the buck.

At the state level the campaigning for a high side increase to $15 per hour seems to be getting the conversation going, but politicians seem to only be moving along the same gradual levels we’ve seen in the past without any great leaps forward.  We’re raising the noise level, but they’re not moving much farther than they’ve been before.  Furthermore we’re not seeing much progress on indexing to inflation, creating an escalator for the minimums rather than a constant campaign, nor are we seeking much movement on the tipped wage which is still largely frozen at levels approaching twenty years ago.

We’re going the right direction, but we could be lucky at this rate to see $15.00 per hour in ten years, if the trend stays at seventy cents per hour, and at the political level, that’s still good, if we can get it, but in many places that’s still a bridge much too far for many of us to reach any time soon.

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Beltway Groups Seem to Have Gotten “Nothing for Something” on Deportation Relief

gty_obama_immigration_jt_120616_wblogNew Orleans     A couple of times per week more than 40 years ago I would stop at a Walgreens in downtown Little Rock for a cup of coffee with Max Allison, a legendary political operator and campaign manager for powerhouse Congressman Wilbur Mills and other Arkansas big whoop politicos.  Enjoyably to me and several others, Max in a circuitous style would prod a discussion about the political “equation” and, while reading the daily papers, dissect whose “fine hand might be behind the news.”

When a half-dozen or so big-time Beltway lobbying groups sign off on a press release that comes out of the blue, dividing the entire immigration reform campaign, by calling on the President to back off of any contemplated changes that might relax the devastating damage being inflicted by the Administration’s record setting deportation efforts, there was no doubt that something was up.  I wondered earlier if there had been a deal, but, sadly, it seems in looking for the “fine hand,” these groups were little more than the eager recruits willing to provide cover for the White House.  Within days of the press release, President Obama has announced that he has asked his folks to delay until August any more work on determining if he has the authority to operate differently on his deportation initiative and raids.

Clearly, the “fine hands” were full-time employees of the White House.  If there was any deal it was not a deal made by a couple of Beltway groups.  They essentially gave it up to the White House on a “something for nothing,” wink-and-nod request, likely in the hope of some pay-me-later bit of access, if, and when, there is ever progress on immigration reform.  If any of us had the time and interest, it might be more telling at this point to look at the groups that said “NO!” to the White House duck-and-cover ask, rather than scarlet letter group that went along for the White House ride.

Friends listening to the rumor mill in DC say that the White House is hoping to help Speaker Boehner with this stutter step delay.  He and the President are whispering back and forth supposedly.  He may step down as Speaker after the election goes one tale.  Passing something on immigration would be a legacy move for him.  Frankly, it all sounds preposterous to me.  Next thing you know, I’ll be asked to believe that Lance Stephenson wasn’t blowing in LeBron’s ear to distract him, but asking for a date after the game.  Come on, now!

More tragically the timing of the President’s retreat had the puppet strings pulling two ways, not only with the DC groups the White House hoped would give him cover, but also seemingly coordinated with raids in Milwaukee displaying the iron fist of deportation as red meat for the rightwing.   But who are we kidding?  According to the Times,

House Republican leaders dismissed the president’s offer of a window, saying they would proceed on their own timetable. “This does not open the door to anything,” said an aide to the House Republican leadership. “It just avoids slamming the door, locking it, dead-bolting it and swallowing the key.”

The only thing the Republicans seemed to have agreed on was an amendment from Iowa’s Congressman Steve King, one of the whackiest, mouth-breathers in the body on the need in fact to investigate whether or not any of the undocumented immigrants blocked from deportation might have committed crimes.

Does any of this sound like progress?  Too much of it seems to have unfortunately reverted to the standard Obama negotiating posture of giving up something for nothing.  The fact that the White House negotiates that way hardly recommends it for any organizations involved in the struggle for immigration reform.  The pressure has to be maintained, and it seems, once again, that’s only going to happen from the grassroots reformers, and not surprisingly, that’s also where the pain is felt most dearly in our communities, many miles and seemingly another world away from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other DC avenues and alphabet lettered streets.

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