Economic justice demands increase in minimum wage
A broad cross-section of progressive organizations are gathering this weekend to kick-start a unified progressive movement in Hawaii.
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A broad cross-section of progressive organizations are gathering this weekend to kick-start a unified progressive movement in Hawaii. The first cause they should unite behind is a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s the right thing to do morally, economically and politically.
The minimum wage in the Aloha State is currently just $8.50 an hour. So a person working 40 hours a week takes home $1,473 a month before taxes. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Honolulu is $1,800. Is it any surprise that so many are homeless?
A significant number of the homeless are Micronesian migrants. Contrary to popular prejudice, most of them work — hard. They wash dishes, clean offices and care for our elderly. These are essential jobs. Somebody has to do them. It’s immoral that anyone could work full-time yet not earn enough to put a roof over their head. Even those who decry what they perceive as a “nanny state” believe that we should value and reward work.
That’s doubtless why a resounding majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage. According to a poll by YouGov reported earlier this year in the Huffington Post, 66 percent of Americans support a $10.10 federal minimum wage; 59 percent support $12 and 48 percent support $15 – and this was a survey that polled people across the country including regions with much lower cost of living than Hawaii. Even a majority of Republicans support going to $10.10 — a rate Hawaii is currently not targeted to reach until 2018.
The economic arguments against raising the wage don’t hold water. Some say it would force small businesses to close. But if you can’t afford to pay your workers a living wage you shouldn’t be in business. The reality is the economy is chugging along at full employment, so most businesses will not have a hard time passing on increased labor costs.
Besides, surveys in recent years have repeatedly shown that a majority of small business owners support raising the minimum wage. The Department of Labor quotes the results of one survey in 2015 thus: “Small business owners say an increase ‘would immediately put more money in the pocket of low-wage workers who will then spend the money on things like housing, food, and gas. This boost in demand for goods and services will help stimulate the economy and help create opportunities.’”
Others worry about inflation. But inflation — currently just 1.6 percent — is lower than the 2 percent target that the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee judges to be “most consistent over the longer run with (our) mandate for price stability and maximum employment.”
Still others warn that raising the minimum wage would lead to job losses. Intuitively it sounds right, but in practice the research shows otherwise. In 2014, 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, wrote to President Barack Obama that “increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”
This is a significant political moment. The majority of voters did not choose the next occupant of the White House and strongly support the social programs, civil rights and environmental protections he wants to put on the chopping block.
People are angry, depressed and looking for ways to fight back. Let’s give them an issue that everyone understands and that would help the most downtrodden members of our society. Once we’ve campaigned together for economic justice, how much easier to support each other on the full range of other progressive causes?
OFF TODAY: Thomas Sowell, whose column runs here Saturdays, is off today.
Anthony Aalto is a filmmaker whose most recent documentary, “No Room In Paradise,” is about Hawaii’s homeless crisis. He also chairs the Sierra Club on Oahu.