With the start of 2018, minimum wage hikes have taken effect in 18 states within the U.S. This is an issue with a quite venerable left/right split.
The states involved are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont. In some of those states the increase is by $0.50, in others it is smaller.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009 After adjusting for inflation, the federal minimum wage reached a peak in 1968, when it was $1.60 in 1968 dollars (close to $11 an hour in today’s money).
But of course the states have the prerogative to set minimum wages higher than what federal law requires. As it happens, modern constitutional law might fairly be said to have been founded in New Deal era disputes over state minimum wage laws, disputes that became bound up with FDR’s efforts to pack the Supreme Court.
The (federal) minimum wage also played a large part in the Presidential campaign of 2016, when Senator Sanders placed himself firmly to the left of Secretary Clinton largely on the strength of this point, demanding a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Clinton’s position on the minimum wage seemed to vary over the course of her primary campaign, which hurt her in comparison to Sanders’ constancy in connection with his favorite number, $15.
With Donald Trump now in the White House, the energy on the issue has passed back to the states.
Left Wing View
The left wing view continues to be what it has long been: almost any legislated increases in the floor on wages, and at any level of government, is a good thing.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) of La Plata County in southwestern Colorado, tweeted on January 1, “450,000 Colorado minimum wage workers got a raise today from $9.30 to $10.20. Substantial progress for CO working families. We have a long way for all people to be paid a livable wage – the living wage in La Plata County is $13.31.”
A fair amount of leftward social media comment about the minimum wage in recent days hasn’t been about the increases in several US. States at all, but rather about the increase in the Canadian province of Ontario, where the minimum went up to $14 an hour at the start of 2017, and will go up again to $15 in another year.
This leads such twitter denizens as JacquiResists to say that the institutions of the U.S. “are lagging behind badly.”
The new Ontario minimum caused another enthusiast to tweet, “man Canada’s the best country point blank period.”
Right Wing View
An Ontario conservative doubts the wisdom of the increase there. “Rosemary” tweeted, “I’m gonna be loving the $14 minimum wage until I walk into tims and see iced capp costs $12.99 plus tax.”
Finance blogger Tyler Durden, of Zero Hedge, devoted a recent column to the subject. He wrote, “While the efforts of our ill-informed ruling class in state capitols all around the country to artificially raise the cost of labor will result in pay raises for some, as we discuss frequently here it will also result in job losses for others.”
Those two conservative responses are different, but they are merely two halves of the same coin. Rosemary’s concern is that businesses will find that they can pass the increase in their labor cost along to the consumer. Tyler Durden’s concern is that they won’t be able to do so, and that they will accordingly lay off some of their labor.
Debates over the minimum wage are tied to differing projections as to automation. The check-out clerk at a supermarket used to be considered a semi-skilled job, safe from machine replacement. But no more, self-check-out lanes have become commonplace.
Another concern conservatives often express is that higher minimum wage laws cut the “entry level jobs” out of the economy. They delete the bottom rungs of a ladder. Even if this helps (some of) those who are on the ladder, it hurts the chances of others outside of the employment system, keeping them out.