There is no realistic hope of raising the federal minimum wage so long as there’s a Republican Congress, but away from the Beltway, striking progress continues.
In a political climate defined by stagnant wages for millions of workers, growing inequality and populist revolts in both parties, activists from outside of the political establishment and low-wage workers achieved a major victory on Monday when the Democratic governors of California and New York both signed bills that would gradually increase their states’ minimum wages to $15 per hour.
In California, the legal minimum will go from $10 an hour now to $15 in 2022. In New York, which currently has a $9 minimum wage, the increase to $15 will apply to New York City by the end of 2018, counties surrounding the city by 2021, and more gradually in parts of the state where the cost of living is less.
In a statement celebrating the developments, President Obama said, “Since I first called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage in 2013, 18 states and more than 40 cities and counties have acted on their own – thanks to the strong leadership of elected officials, businesses, and workers who organized and fought so hard for the economic security families deserve. Now Congress needs to act to raise the federal minimum wage and expand access to paid leave for all Americans.”
Of course, with a far-right Republican majority in the U.S. House and Senate, the odds of success are effectively non-existent. But why is that? GOP opposition to even a slight increase in the federal minimum wage is as obvious as it is ferocious, but why are Republicans so obstinate on the issue, especially in light of broad public support for a wage hike?
Most GOP policymakers won’t simply acknowledge their philosophical objection, but rather, they’ll say Republicans are honoring the wishes of “job creators” in the private sector – to raise the minimum wage, the argument goes, will hurt employers in businesses nationwide who don’t want, and can’t afford, a higher federal minimum.
Except, that’s not quite true. The Washington Post published an interesting report on this yesterday:
Whenever minimum wage increases are proposed on the state or federal level, business groups tend to fight them tooth and nail. But actual opposition may not be as united as the groups’ rhetoric might make it appear, according to internal research conducted by a leading consultant for state chambers of commerce.The survey of 1,000 business executives across the country was conducted by LuntzGlobal, the firm run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and obtained by a liberal watchdog group called the Center for Media and Democracy. Among the most interesting findings: 80 percent of respondents said they supported raising their state’s minimum wage, while only eight percent opposed it.“That’s where it’s undeniable that they support the increase,” LuntzGlobal managing director David Merritt told state chamber executives in a webinar describing the results, noting that it squares with other polling they’ve done. “And this is universal. If you’re fighting against a minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans, are okay with raising the minimum wage.”
And yet, for GOP officials, the fight continues. In “red” states, a variety of Republican state governments have already taken steps to block cities from raising local minimum wages, and at the national level, the party’s leading 2016 presidential candidates say they’ll reject an increase if elected.