January 30, 2014 10:36:35 AM
In the wake of the President's State of the Union address the nation's economy has become the most discussed and debated issue facing our nation today.
There is a "Good News, Better News" opportunity whose time has come:
Raise the minimum wage.
That's the good news.
The better news is that it need not be a partisan struggle.
Raising the minimum wage should be supported by those on the left, for whom the plight of the poor has long been a rallying cry.
Raising the minimum wage should be supported by those on the right because it takes a step to ease the burden of the middle-class, whose taxes support programs for the poor.
While critics of raising the minimum wage say an increase would mean employers would eliminate jobs because of high labor costs, and make it difficult for young people to secure jobs and create inflation, there has never been any data to support that assertion. The federal minimum wage has been raised 22 times since it was established in 1938. There has never been any evidence those increases produced either a measurable sustained rise in inflation or unemployment.
The reason: Critics miss a factor that is far more critical than any other when it comes to the overall impact of an increase in the minimum wage: It immediately infuses the economy with a substantial increase in spending. Lower-wage workers, those who would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage, are far less likely to save their income than those whose incomes are higher. For them, any dollar in their pockets are dollasr they are compelled to spend. It goes into the economy immediately and virtually every aspect of the economy benefits.
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, a raise in the minimum wage would pump $32.6 billion into the national economy and create 140,000 new jobs.
But in Mississippi, which has the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the nation, the impact would be even greater.
An estimated 230,000 of our state's workers are minimum-wage workers. It is estimated that a boost in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would pump more than $400 million into the Mississippi economy and create 1,600 jobs, That's more jobs than the new Yokohama factory in West Point will have added in its first three phases (1,500).
A raise in the minimum wage would also address something that conservatives have long opposed: the run-away cost of government programs.
Nationally, we spend about $80 billion annually on food stamps (known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), almost twice as much as five years ago.
Conservatives are right to say those kinds of expenses are not only unsustainable, but put an unfair burden on taxpayers.
Few things would have a more immediate and direct effect on reducing SNAP expenditures than an increase in the minimum wage. That's because, for the first time ever, a majority of SNAP beneficiaries are working-age adults. SNAP funds are most often used to supplement the incomes of working people whose wages will not sustain them.
In the First Congressional District, which includes most of the Golden Triangle, almost 42,000 households received SNAP benefits in 2011. Fifty percent of those households had one member who was working (think "single mom") and another 25 percent had two workers in the household (both mom and dad working to support their children). What that tells us is that, contrary to popular belief, three in four SNAP households in our community are occupied by working people, many of them working for minimum wage.
An increase in the minimum wage would have a direct effect on the cost of SNAP programs as more and more workers would draw less and less federal aid.
If the tide of public opinion, which in turn creates political momentum, is to continue to call for an increase in the minimum wage (latest polls show 72 percent of Americans favor an increase) we must dispense with some myths that continue to prejudice our views.
Minimum-wage workers are not primarily teens just getting started (88.5 percent are age 20 or older). They are not uneducated (67 percent have finished high school or attended college). They are not part-time workers (nationally 85.8 percent are full-time; In Mississippi, 92.2 percent are full-time).
Call your legislators -- Congressman Alan Nunnelee (202) 225-4306; Congressman Gregg Harper (202) 225-5031; Sen. Roger Wicker (202) 224-6253; Sen. Thad Cochran (202) 224-5054. Tell them that you expect them to support an increase in the minimum wage.
Unless there is some political philosophy that says bringing $400 million in new income and 1,600 jobs to Mississippi is an evil to be avoided, this is not a partisan issue.
It's a great opportunity for our elected officials to, for once, actually do something that will have an immediate, dramatic positive effect on our economy.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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