By Eugene Robinson
At the risk of repeating myself, the federal minimum wage is far too low and needs to be raised. Republicans who claim to be worried about lost jobs can dry their crocodile tears, because a few simple measures would get all those jobs back—and lots more.
It has been amusing to watch GOP grandees try to paint themselves as champions of the working stiff. This new appreciation for the struggles of low-wage earners was prompted by a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which estimates that raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, as President Obama proposes, would result in the loss of 500,000 jobs.
Never mind that about 25 million workers would get raises, according to the report, or that 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement saying that the CBO report “confirms what we’ve long known” and that “our focus should be creating—not destroying—jobs for those who need them most.”
Boehner is consistent on the issue, at least, if at times a bit overdramatic: In 1996, when he was head of the House Republican Conference, he said in an interview with The Weekly Standard that “I’ll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum wage bill.”
Maybe we should all take a deep breath and look at the big picture. The purpose of raising the minimum wage is to give those at the bottom of the pay scale something that more closely approximates a living wage. It strikes me as obscene for conservatives to prattle on about the “dignity of work” when workers can toil long and hard in full-time jobs and yet their families can still be poor and in need of government assistance.
As the White House points out, not all economists believe that raising the minimum wage inevitably means lost jobs. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the CBO report is right in its analysis and projections. And let’s take Republicans at their word that they are inconsolably distraught about the prospect of seeing 500,000 jobs disappear.
Before doing anything rash, Boehner and his colleagues should simply look at a few prior CBO reports. They’ll see how all those jobs, plus a lot more, can be recovered.
The first thing to do is extend the long-term unemployment benefits that expired at the end of last year. According to the CBO—whose word, apparently, is now holy writ among Republicans—this simple measure would add 200,000 jobs, perhaps as many as 300,000. Democrats in both chambers are pushing to get these benefits reinstated. If Republicans would go along, we’d be more than halfway toward erasing the loss from increasing the minimum wage.
And we’re just getting started.
The CBO has estimated that canceling the across-the-board reductions in federal spending known as “sequestration” would preserve 900,000 jobs a year. Democrats have been trying mightily to get these ill-conceived and gratuitously harmful budget cuts repealed. Republicans, given their newfound concern about workers, surely now will concur that the spending must be restored, right?
That gives us more than 1 million jobs to replace the 500,000 lost from hiking the minimum wage. But Republicans wouldn’t want to stop there. To maximize employment, putting as many people to work as possible, the GOP should obviously begin designing a new economic stimulus package, much like the stimulus Obama convinced Congress to approve five years ago.
According to the CBO, the $800 billion stimulus—much maligned by Republicans as a waste of money—created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs per year from 2009 through 2012. Now that most of the money is spent and the impact of the stimulus is waning, clearly it’s time to give job-creation another boost.
Am I holding my breath for Boehner to unveil the trillion-dollar Full Employment Stimulus Act of 2014? Of course not. The GOP’s sudden commitment to job creation is a sham—just like its professed absolute faith in the CBO’s numbers. Far-right Republican orthodoxy opposes raising the minimum wage on ideological grounds, not because of some commitment to full employment.
There was a time when both major political parties understood the phrase “dignity of work.”
Obama and the Democrats still believe that no one who works full time should have to be poor. Despite their new rhetoric, Republicans obviously disagree.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2014, Washington Post Writers Group
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