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Minimum wage raise would help, not hurt, the working poor

Since President Barack Obama called for a bump in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour last week, Peter Morici and other conservative economists have been trotting out the same tired, specious arguments against raising the minimum wage.

"The minimum is often paid to teenagers bagging groceries and college students on work-study jobs that are really masked financial aid," Morici writes. He does not mention, but must be aware, that the minimum wage is much more often paid to working adults who have families to support.

In 1996 the U.S. Department of Labor reported that almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers were adults, and four in ten were the sole bread winner of their families. This was when the working poor were a smaller percentage of the workforce than they are today.

Obama has pointed out that the federal minimum wage is worth 20% less than when President Reagan took office (not since Harry Truman, as Morici incorrectly cites). While corporate executive compensation has skyrocketed since then, the real spending power of minimum wage workers has steadily declined.

Morici argues that raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would put an undue burden on businesses, forcing them to cut jobs at the lowest end of the pay scale, and hurting the working poor.

It's true that a raise in the minimum wage has to be paid for by somebody. But no one forces companies to cut their lowest-paid jobs to remain profitable. Instead, they could cut the salaries and perks of their top and mid-level executives. Large corporations who employ thousands of minimum wage workers can well afford to share more of their profits with the people whose work creates the profits.

Allowing businesses to pay workers so little that they must rely on SNAP and other government assistance amounts to a government subsidy of those businesses. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for workers to have enough to eat? Isn't this the responsibility of the companies who profit from their work?

Raising the minimum wage, by itself, probably won't be enough to solve the problem of economic inequality. Something also needs to be done to reign in executive compensation. When corporations don't take responsibility for the well-being of their workers on their own initiative, our political leaders must step in and make them take responsibility.

A study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would lift more than half of the working poor out of poverty. Let's start there, and see if corporate America will do the right thing.