There is a predictable, if dubious, story that makes the rounds every time governments make an effort to raise the minimum wage. If you raise the minimum wage, the tale goes, fewer young people will have jobs and some businesses will fail.
Never mind that it never seems to happen, that’s the agreed-upon narrative and it simply has to play out for a while. But there’s another side to that story, one that appeared in Sunday’s Buffalo News. It goes like this: Workers migrate to states where the minimum wage is higher.
The story focused on an Idaho woman, Carly Lynch, who commutes to a small city in eastern Oregon where she works at a restaurant. The reason: She makes $1.85 per hour more with Oregon’s higher minimum wage of $9.10 an hour.
Similar treks occur from Idaho to Oregon, Washington and Nevada, all with higher minimum wages. The difference in pay does not put an end to the financial stress of low-wage workers, but it can create some breathing room, allowing, in Lynch’s case, for some savings. For others, the difference in income can permit workers to quit second jobs, buy a car or take a vacation – all events that can bolster economies and increase tax revenues.
Just how influential such occurrences are is an open question, but it’s worth acknowledging, as opponents are loathe to do, that there is another side to the tale of woe unspooled by business interests and their supporters every time someone suggests raising the minimum wage.
To a great extent, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the repeated arguments against raising the minimum wage are nothing more than a delaying tactic: Hold back an increase as long as possible, then adjust and gird for the next battle, using the same tactics.
The fact is that the mere existence of a minimum wage presupposes that it will occasionally be increased. Otherwise, it is a meaningless exercise. Consider: When the minimum wage was first implemented, under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, it was 25 cents an hour. As recently as 1996, when Bill Clinton was president, the minimum wage reached $4.75 an hour, or $9,880 a year – hardly enough even then to support a single person, let alone a family. If the minimum wage weren’t periodically raised, it would be a worthless concept.
That’s why New York State increased the minimum wage last year and it’s why Washington should follow suit for the first time in five years, creating a level playing field across the country. It won’t kill businesses and it would create additional income that workers would spend in their communities.
And if that’s not enough to get the attention of Congress there’s also this: It’s just the right thing to do. Get it done and move on.