Clinton’s wage hike doesn’t do the job

Ten bucks an hour full-time, after taxes, comes out to about $350 a week, or $1,600 a month. A mortgage for a decent house runs about $800. Add a typical car payment and that leaves about $500 to cover everything else. That’s not a lot — nobody earning $10 an hour eats steak every night — but it’s enough to get by. But it’s twice what people earning the federal minimum wage earn. America’s roughly 12 million workers earning the minimum $5.15 an hour don’t bring home enough money to live decently, much less comfortably. Forget owning property. At under $200 a week, keeping a car is all but impossible. Health insurance is all but non-existent for workers paid the bottom rate. The minimum wage is not a living wage, and for families it only maintains poverty.
The federal minimum wage has never been high, but it hasn’t always been as low as it is today. In the last 18 years, Republicans have held the White House or Congress for all but two years. They have also controlled the agenda on the minimum wage, arguing that increasing the bottom hourly rate would increase inflation and throw millions of people out of work — all the while arguing that only teenagers and immigrants earn the minimum anyway. These arguments simply don’t hold water and never have. When Congress last year enacted President Bill Clinton’s minimum wage increase, the greatest economic boom in a generation continued. Inflation decreased and employment went up. When individual states — such as Minnesota and New Jersey in the 1990s — have raised their minimum above the federal rate, jobs didn’t fly across the state lines. Employment in both states went up.
In last week’s State of the Union address, Clinton announced his plans to ask Congress to increase the minimum wage yet again in 1998. The federal wage floor would reach $6.50 by the year 2000. Yet even that isn’t a living wage. As an anti-poverty tool, the minimum wage fails miserably. Government subsidies, such as welfare and the Earned Income Tax Credit, barely cover the gap between the legal minimum and the practical base. Many advocates of increasing the minimum wage point to the gap between exorbitant executive pay packages and the pittance many workers earn. Yet proponents of a minimum wage increase are not interested in robbing the rich to give to the poor. The government does the opposite already — taxing minimum-wage paychecks to pay for corporate subsidies and mortgage deductions robs the poor to pay the rich.
The government spends hundreds of millions on programs that help provide food, shelter, and medical care to the poor. Many of them work and earn the minimum wage. This is wrong. People who work full-time should be able to live without government assistance. Providing a living wage that approaches $10 an hour for full-time work would at least ensure that no hard-working American parents are forced to raise their children in poverty. Congressional Republicans should remember Ronald Reagan’s mantra, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and call Clinton’s proposal the half-measure it is. If lawmakers really want to reduce welfare dependence, they must reward work and responsibility by raising the minimum wage to a livable level.