Do You Want Fries (or Voters) with That?: the GOP and the Minimum Wage

Anela Mangum

Chris Christie is facing criticism for his comments to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “I gotta tell you the truth, I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am. I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized. Is that what parents aspire to for their children?”

While he claims he was misunderstood, this is just another example of conservative leaders speaking out against raising the minimum wage.

Earlier this month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he doesn’t think the minimum wage “serves a purpose” during an interview. Later he said he focused on programs for people not to get minimum wage jobs.

Despite the efforts of politicians to create jobs, about twenty percent of the American workforce depend on minimum wage salaries. Chris Christie has said that the people who work minimum wage jobs are typically teenagers and college students who work for extra money. However, the average age of the person who would benefit from the raise from $7.25 to $10.10 is thirty-five.

The minimum wage is not an economic question; it is a political issue. Every president since FDR, except for two, have raised the minimum wage. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton were able to raise the minimum wage despite their political differences. The political parties worked out their differences.

President Obama has focused on an increase in the minimum wage. He spoke about it in his State of the Union Address earlier this year and signed an executive order to increase the minimum wage of federal workers. When the motion to proceed to the Minimum Wage Fairness Act came to the floor of the Senate this past April, almost all of the Republicans voted against it.

Chris Christie’s argument was that the largest economic problem for the United States is not the minimum wage but creating a stable economic environment for job growth. After he clarified his position this Thursday, people still criticize his comments. Minimum wage is more about teenagers. He could have reframed his argument to include the rest of the working force. The other eighty percent of workers in the United States have had decreases in their salaries consistently for the past fourteen years.

There is a problem for the middle class in finding and keeping regular work that supports their families. To fix the difficulties that Americans deal with, the government needs to stimulate consumption. Seventy percent of GDP is based on consumption. With the raise to $10.10, more people could spend more money in more businesses.

The raise could combat the low labor force participation rate, which is at its lowest in decades. The government should invest in the country’s infrastructure.

Secretary Perez discussed the government investments in manufacturing, energy, IT, cyber security, and transportation. By providing the working class with different skills, the government will have to provide less in terms of social welfare. According to economist David Autor, dividing all of the wealth gains the top one percent made in 1979 and 2012 and spread it to the rest of the American population would result in only $7,000. Alternatively if a high-school-educated couple earns college degrees, their salaries increase by over $50,000 every year.

Last year, sixty percent of voters in New Jersey voted to increase the minimum wage. Chris Christie vetoes a $1 raise to $8.25. The Republican Party’s tenacity with social issues has already affected them in previous elections. Compounding the issue of minimum wage with the lasting issues the public has with the Republican Party, the GOP could run into problems with the upcoming midterm elections and with conservative presidential candidates.

[Image Credit:]