Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 will not suddenly lead to total income equity in the United States. However, it would clearly be a small step in the right direction and is supported by the majority of Americans. The fact is that America has become more and more economically stratified over time. 

A few years ago, EPI analyzed historical compensation data for CEOs and other employees. What EPI found was shocking. Since 1978, CEO pay was up an amazing 940% while pay for the common worker was almost flat, with just a 12% increase. That’s a 278-1 ratio.  

Back in 1978, the average CEO annual comp for the 350 largest corporations was less than $1 million. That CEO now makes an average of $17 million annually (including $14 million in exercised stock options). There are even CEOs of failing companies that make millions annually. 

The Rand Corporation recently issued a report showing how the US middle class (defined as the “middle 60 percent of the earnings distribution” income) is declining.  One chart “Share of Total Income Accruing to Middle 60 Percent, 1967–2019,” illustrates how the proportion of income going to the middle class went from 53% in 1969 (when I graduated from college) to 45% today. Another chart illustrates that we are far behind other developed nations regarding income inequities. For example, for Gen X folks (born 1965-1982) in the USA, only 54% are middle class. The average number for OECD developed nations is 64%. 

The national minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, despite inflation. However, raising the minimum wage is not a new or revolutionary concept, despite what the right-wing ideologues say. Florida Gov. DeSantis is a good example of someone professing to be for common people, but working against them. 

He was elected in part because he painted his opponent (Mayor Gillum) as having a “far left socialist platform”, in part for advocating a Florida minimum wage increase. GOP conservatives use that right-wing catch phrase “socialist” to disparage anything they don’t agree with ideologically. And DeSantis’ interpretation is factually incorrect, according to every accepted definition of the term. 

According to the unique DeSantis definition, we have been a “socialist” nation since 1938. That’s when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which included a minimum wage, was first enacted with both GOP and Democratic Congressmen voting for it. 

Minimum wage increases have been legislated 22 times before by both the Republican and Democrat “socialists” running our nation since 1938. And it’s long overdue when we consider that minimum wage legislation was last passed in 2009. 

There was a national bill (HR 582) in the last session of Congress to increase the US minimum wage. Passed in the House but permanently stuck in the “Grim Reaper’s” Senate, that bill was just a modification of the 1938 law in order to keep up with the changing economic situation.  

Having a reasonable minimum wage decreases inequality while encouraging those at the margins of our society to get a job. Frankly, with the constantly rising cost of living and failure of the mandated minimum wage base to keep up, that just seems logical and entirely reasonable, Further, the wage increases proposed in the COVID Relief bill are gradual. 

But the politics are tough. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between the two parties. Conservative Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema oppose raising the minimum wage to $15. Plus, the Senate Parliamentarian said that this provision could not be in the COVID Relief bill if it went to the budget reconciliation committee (i.e., only requiring 50 votes to pass). So, the Democrats were forced to remove it from that bill.  

Of course, if twelve GOP Senators would vote for raising the minimum wage to $15, a separate bill would pass. But that would mean really A Republican Senator truly being a populist who helps the downtrodden… versus just spewing classist/racist rhetoric to inflame blue collar workers in order to win an election. So, obviously there is very little chance of that happening in today’s GOP. 

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Image Credit: Rally and March to raise the minimum wage in America by Fight for $15 on 4/15 via Wikimedia Commons and licensed under Creative Commons.

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.