It's Minimum Wage Gone Wild in America, folks.
After years of stagnant pay for the United States' bottom-of-the-barrel workers, including the likes of employees in fast-food, retail and hospitality, there's a movement afoot to have their billion-dollar-plus corporate employers give them just a little more.
Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a bill that will increase California's $8 minimum wage to $9 on July 1, then to $10 on Jan. 1, 2016. And President Obama recently declared that federal contract workers will have to see at least $10.10 an hour. Now California state Sen. Mark Leno is trying to outdo them all:
Leno this week announced that he's proposed a law, SB 935, that will take minimum wage from $9 to $11 in 2015 then to $12 in 2016 and $13 in 2017.
But, wait, there's more:
Starting in 2018 the rate would automatically go up each year in parallel with the rate of inflation. (Lately it has been about 1.5 percent in the United States, so that would mean a 1.5 percent increase in the minimum wage. For today's minimum wage of $8 we would see a 12-cent increase).
Corporations and some on the political right have argued that raising the minimum wage would stifle hiring and stunt economic growth.
Proponents of raising the income of entry-level workers say minimum wage, which has not kept up with inflation or the cost of living, particularly in places like L.A., constitutes poverty pay. While fast food jobs were never meant to cover rent or support families, today they are.
Even so, 1968's minimum wage adjusted for inflation would be $10.77 now, Leno's office says. That's 22 percent more than California's entry-level workers earn today.
While some would have us believe that the profits of corporations and billionaires are tied directly to the health of our economy, those profits have reached record highs during and after the Great Recession with little trickle-down job creation.
Opponents of raising the minimum also argue that those stuck in low-paying jobs need to get an education because college degrees increase your income by a lot, which is true.
But remember, the United States was not always a nation of degree holders – not until after World War II and its (decidedly “Big Government”) G.I. Bill – and it still isn't. (About one-third of Americans ages 25 to 29 have college degrees).
The website COLLEGEdata says attending college in-state costs an average of $22,826 a year; private school will run about $44,750.
The annual income of full-time minimum-wage earners in California is $15,360. How are they supposed to pay for that college, sell organs on the black market?
The greatest factor in economic growth is, by far, consumer spending. A nation of minimum-wage earners employed by an increasingly small percentage of people taking home an increasingly larger slice of the economic pie isn't going to cut it.
If millionaires and billionaires keep stuffing their cash in offshore accounts (a la Mitt Romney) while minimum-wage earners have zero disposable income, the economy will stagnate.
What's more, critics of the current minimum wage say some big companies like McDonald's and Walmart surreptitiously rely on public safety nets, including emergency rooms and food stamps, to help support their underpaid workers.
Leno had this to say:
Low, stagnant wages have forced many hard-working California families to get by with paychecks that leave them below the poverty level. It is time to accelerate our efforts to increase the minimum wage and reduce income inequality within the state's communities. In doing so, we will reward and respect hard work, reduce turnover, stimulate economic growth and give low-income workers a fighting chance to end their dependence on public assistance.