The political debate over proposed increases in the minimum wage has been remarkably consistent since the nation first enacted a national minimum wage in 1938. In the present discussion, opponents argue that raising the rate to $5.15 or $5.25 will eliminate jobs and by extension, harm the least-skilled and poorest workers the most.
Supporters, the group in which Plastics News philosophically resides on this issue, believe the past 58 years of minimum wage law and experience with it - including job growth - suggest otherwise.
The proposed increase is good public policy, and clearly overdue.
The last time Congress and the White House were in conflict over this matter was 1989 and George Bush, a Republican, was president.
The resulting compromise produced a graduated increase in the then $3.35 hourly rate to $4.25 by 1991, with a training wage of $3.35 an hour permitted for workers 16-19 years old during their first 90 days on the job.
Adjusted for inflation, the present $4.25 rate is equivalent in value to what it was when last raised nearly seven years ago. That's a good deal for employers, who understandably are opposed to paying higher wages.
It is not a good deal for the millions of American workers with families who labor at wages below the poverty line set by the government.
It is true that many low-wage employees are young and without dependents. But more than 13 percent of minimum wage workers are over 25 years old, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a growing cohort because of the declining birth rate trend. While an increase of 90 cents or $1 an hour will not greatly improve the standard of living for this group, as raise opponents cynically argue, the additional money is significant at that income level.
Unfortunately, the various statistical studies developed on both sides of the minimum wage issue to support the different positions don't serve to illuminate much other than the cantankerous nature of politics in an election year. The reality is that in a number of labor markets, such as those in impoverished inner cities and southern states with a rich history of labor exploitation, employers can buy labor cheaply from a pool of unskilled and undereducated workers. Some people are loath to see that changed, regardless of the societal cost.
Other markets differ significantly. Many companies have problems hiring people at less than $5.50 or $6 per hour. A Summit County, Ohio, plastics company recently lost part of a tax abatement because of strong competition for entry-level workers in an area where fast-food restaurants offer $300 bonuses and hourly wages of $7 an hour.
There seems to be a common-sense nutritive value to raising the minimum wage, such as helping to reduce employee turnover. Maybe that's why 80 percent of voters have said they support hiking it.