Friday, October 13, 2006

Nobel Economists: Republicans Wrong on Minimum Wage

With the buying power of the Federal minimum wage at its lowest point in 55 years, five Nobel Prize-winning economists have been joined by 650 of their peers, in calling on the Republican-led Congress to increase the minimum wage. Describing the last increase almost 10 years ago as now "fully eroded," the economists said that they agree with a report written in 1999 by the Council of Economic Advisors declaring that "modest increases in the minimum wage have had very little or no effect on employment."

"We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed," the economists wrote in a paper delivered this week on a conference call hosted by the Economic Policy Institute, an economic research group based in Washington, D.C.

In addition to asserting that the real value of the minimum wage is at its lowest point since 1951, the economists also noted that the ratio of what a minimum-wage earner makes and the average pay rates of other hourly workers is at a significant low.

"The ratio of the minimum wage to the average hourly wage of non-supervisory workers is 31%, its lowest level since World War II," they said. " This decline is causing hardship for low-wage workers and their families."

The Federal minimum wage has been at $5.15 an hour since 1997, which puts a working American earning that wage, even laboring 50 hours a week, at below the national poverty line.

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has been ferociously pursuing the issue for years and with particular fervor in the current Congress, which ends this year.

“These esteemed economists understand what everyone except the Republican leadership and the White House understand: an increase in the minimum wage is long overdue and would strengthen our economy," said Kennedy, in a statement Thursday. "Millions of American families are living in poverty while working hard for the American dream, while the Republicans block every effort to give them the raise they deserve --- despite skyrocketing increases in health care, gas prices, and education."

Nobel Prize winners calling on Republicans to raise the minimum wage are Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University, Lawrence Klein of the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Solow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joseph Stiglitz at Columbia University and Clive Granger of the University of California, San Diego.

The Republican leadership and the Bush administration have stubbornly held to the view that a higher minimum wage would lead to fewer jobs and more employers moving jobs offshore -- the latter, a ludicrous assumption, given that most minimum wage jobs are local, service-oriented positions that cannot be moved to another country.

The group of 650 economists shot down that notion, saying in their report that a Democratic plan to phase in a minimum wage increase to $7.25 "falls well within the range of options where the benefits to the labor market, workers, and the overall economy would be positive."

They also contradicted Republican claims that most people earning minimum wage are teenagers who don’t use the money for living essentials and bare subsistence.

"While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families," the report says.

Republicans put forth a bogus plan to raise the minimum wage over the summer, when they attached it to a whopping Estate Tax cut for America's super rich, knowing that the legislation would fail, but providing them with a cynical way to tell voters that they had voted to improve the lot of working families.

Meanwhile, the GOP Congress has killed three attempts by Kennedy to raise the minimum wage in just the last two years on almost straight party-line votes and will undoubtedly keep doing that if allowed to remain in power after November 7.

Said Kennedy: "It is clear as day that despite what the economists advise, the only way these hard working people will get a new raise is if this Congress gets new management in November."