New Populist Movement Driving Local Minimum Wage Reforms

Dave Johnson

There is a new populist movement that is driving minimum wage and other reforms across the country. The public wants the minimum wage increased, and cities and states are acting on their own to bypass D.C. and get this moving.

Does It Matter What The Public Wants?

People want the minimum wage increased. Visit the website Populist Majority – “Exposing the gulf between American opinion and conventional wisdom” and you will learn that:

  • 80 percent of unmarried women support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and indexing it to inflation (Voter Participation Center/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner).
  • 69 percent favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 (Bloomberg).
  • 58 percent are more likely to vote for a candidate that supports raising the federal minimum wage (NBC/Wall Street Journal/Hart).
  • 57 percent of small business owners support increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 in three stages over two and a half years to $10.10, and believe that it should be adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living (Small Business Majority/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner).

People want the minimum wage increased, and are organizing and making it happen in cities and states around the country.

  • This month Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) signed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018. At the signing ceremony, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said, “When you put money in people’s pockets, people spend it,” Perez said. “When people spend it, businesses have to hire more people. When businesses hire more people, everybody benefits. That’s why the minimum wage works.”
  • In New Jersey more than 50 percent of voters approved an increase in the minimum wage to $8 with a cost-of-living increase, even while re-electing Gov. Chris Christie by the same margin. (Looks like they should have tried for $9 or $10.)
  • Milwaukee is close to raising the wage to $11.33. A January Wisconsin poll found that sixty-two percent statewide want the minimum wage increased, while 35 percent are opposed.
  • Connecticut raised their minimum wage to $10.10.
  • Minnesota is increasing its minimum wage to $950.
  • 87 percent of Chicago voters recommended raising the wage to $15 in a non-binding vote.
  • Hawaii is raising their minimum wage to $10.10.
  • Seattle is finalizing a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15.
  • San Francisco is already at $10.74 per hour.

With all of these victories in mind, advocates in many more cities and states are working on new ballot initiatives and other efforts to raise the minimum wage locally, getting around Republican obstruction in the Congress. (Of course, in response to this widespread increase in local support for minimum wage increases, Oklahoma Republicans passed a ban on cities increasing the wage or mandating employee sick days — even if unpaid.)

The Effect Of Raising The Wage: No Job Loss, Better Lives For Low-Wage Workers

A March report by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at San Francisco and eight other cities that have raised their minimum wages in the past decade, along with 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum. It also looked at a number of other studies of the effect of increasing the minimum wage.

The conclusions include statements like, “no statistically significant negative effects on employment or hours (including in low-wage industries such as restaurants)” and “no statistically significant negative effects on employment or hours at an aggregate level or for low-wage industries such as restaurants and retail stores, or for specific groups of workers such as teens. These studies also do not find substitution effects (such as shifts in hiring away from black and Latino teens).”

In summary, our assessment of the research evidence indicates that minimum wage mandates raise the incomes of low-wage workers and their families, and that the costs to businesses are absorbed largely by reduced turnover costs and by small price increases among restaurants. That said, it is important to emphasize that existing research is necessarily limited to the range of minimum wage increases that have been implemented to date. While these studies are suggestive, they can not tell us what is likely to happen when minimum wages are increased significantly beyond current local, state, or general mandates.

An earlier 2010 UC Berkeley study had also found that, “Increasing the minimum wage does not lead to the short- or long-term loss of low-paying jobs.”

While there were no job losses found and low-wage workers had higher incomes, these studies did not also point out the obvious: raising the minimum wage:

  • lowers government safety-net costs,
  • increases tax revenue and,
  • gives million of people more money to spend,
  • which also boosts the economy.

The New Populism Conference

This minimum wage movement around the country forms part of a template for how we build independent movements to improve the economy for regular people. The New Populism Conference
This is just part of a set of populist movements that are starting to transform our politics.

With a new wave of populism rising, the Campaign for America’s Future has announced “The New Populism Conference,” May 22 in Washington and featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Participants will discuss strategies for educating, energizing and mobilizing around an agenda for economic change that strong majorities of Americans already support, including:

  • Investing in good jobs to achieve full employment
  • Ensuring that anyone who works full time should not be in poverty
  • Breaking up the banks that are “too big to fail”
  • Increasing, not cutting, Social Security benefits
  • Recognizing that America is not broke; the rich and big corporations are not paying their fair share.
  • Rejecting the Supreme Court’s view that corporations are people, and refusing to let big money buy our democracy.

In addition, critical sessions throughout the day will be sharpening the progressive principles that will unite and galvanize America’s new populist majority. If you want to be a part of it, click here and reserve your place now.

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