Friday, March 30, 2012

The Least we can Do

A new bill proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would raise the minimum wage by 35% and tie it to inflation. The bill would also do a number of other interesting things, like investing money in renewable energy research and in upgrading schools. While the bill is expected be heavily opposed by business groups, it's worth noting that this is a concrete effort to reinvest in America and give people a chance to make a living.

The other measures included in the bill would make overtime available to more workers, require companies to give more sick days to their workers, and would allow more workers to join unions. The bill is blatantly partisan and favors the democratic majority in the Senate, but it also favors another group that has been in decline over the last several years: middle-class Americans and the working poor. These groups would see a huge difference if these measures were put in place. The minimum wage change alone would be a big benefit. But like most partisan bills, it doesn't stand a chance when the two houses of Congress can't agree.

You could argue that raising the minimum wage would be bad for business, leading companies to lay off more workers. The problem with that logic is two-fold. First, companies are already sitting on large amounts of cash that they aren't spending. They are making record profits, and raising the minimum wage will hurt them somewhat, but won't make it impossible to do business. Second, most companies are already operating with the lowest number of workers they can. If they were to lay off any more, they wouldn't be able to meet demand. Besides, the economy is turning around somewhat, we have good jobs numbers, and things seem to be coming together. Does that mean that we should allow businesses to keep paying their employees at the same rate they have been since 2009?

Republicans will say that they can't support a bill that would hurt businesses and the economy. They will argue that this bill would cause the markets to plummet, unemployment to spike, and the economy to get worse. My question, then, would be why are they favoring businesses to Americans? Sure, it will cost businesses more to hire people. But, if all of those minimum wage workers have 35% more money in their pockets annually, they are going to spend approximately 35% more money in the marketplace, which will boost sales figures and profits. Furthermore, having a higher minimum wage may put more people into taxable income brackets, thereby putting more money in the pockets of Washington to help pay down the debt.

There are a lot of ways to look at this, but I strongly believe it's a step in the right direction for America's lost workforce. Let's strengthen our middle class again, and get back to the powerhouse economy we used to have.

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