In the spirit of Wisconsin’s longtime history of activism, labor groups and workers took to the streets of Milwaukee this Labor Day in pursuit of a $15/hour minimum wage. Last raised by the federal government in the summer of 2007 to $7.25 per hour, the state government has balked at raising the minimum wage statewide for over a decade.
Governor Walker’s refusal to even consider implementing a livable wage throughout his administration has severely depleted the standard of living for citizens statewide. Inflation corrodes the buying power of everyone but strikes hardest at those with the least ability to pay. Knowing the stone-cold facts on the ground has thrown increased fervor into the labor movement in Milwaukee and across the nation.
The situation has prompted many cities and states to take the initiative , including our very own Madison. In September of 2016, the Dane County Board overwhelmingly approved a measure to raise the minimum wage for county employees to $15 by the year 2022. The plan raises the wage, today at $12.50, by 50 cents each year until it hits its intended mark.
Critics, typically under the guise of being pro-business, quickly pounce on the notion that higher wages impose an unnecessary burden on businesses. So goes the notion that businesses will bleed jobs because of an inability to reconcile the two ends of the spectrum: wages and profits. Unfortunately for the critics, their vision of economic armageddon has not played out quite as anticipated. Dane County has forged ahead as the top dog in a field of 72 counties for having the lowest unemployment rate.
Since implementing its minimum wage policy just last year, Dane county shaved off half a percentage point from its unemployment rate, down to 2.6 percent. What’s more, the change in policy has not harmed, but indeed enhanced, Madison’s standing in Wisconsin.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal announced that the city brought in more new residents than any other part of the state. A robust minimum wage has bolstered the quality of life and economic opportunity in Madison. In fact, states and localities around the country that have raised the minimum wage have seen a slew of benefits. In July, CNBC ranked the state of Washington as America’s top state for business, where the minimum wage is $11 per hour.
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The basic principle underscoring minimum wage increases is the recognition that the nucleus of economic power has shifted massively from working and middle-class folks to millionaires and billionaires in recent decades. Exacerbated by the financial crisis of 2008, from which Time Magazine found the top one percent of income earners snatched 85 percent of all new wealth generated from 2009 to 2013, this dangerous trend cannot be left unchecked.
Corporate America and its executives benefit handsomely from this inherently rigged system. It’s no surprise then that calls for reforms have been stonewalled because, quite frankly, money speaks louder than words in this political system. 20th century America yielded unprecedented growth off the back of the strongest middle class in human history.
Higher wages provide more buying power to those who utilize it most. Increased spending leads to increased demand for labor, spinning off a virtuous cycle of expansion. Endemic inequality largely neutered that vision and left the United States in an economic malaise, with the weakest post-recession recovery on record.
Lifting the minimum wage to a livable wage has proven to be a case study in smart economics. Every community, from urban to rural, should heed labor’s moral crusade in raising the minimum wage. America thrives when its foundational pillars, based in the working and middle class, are strong. Expansion from the middle-out and bottom-up was the successful blueprint in an era long gone.
It’s time to give America a raise.
Michael Sauer ([email protected]) is a freshman intending to major in political science.