The U.S. House of Representatives had an opportunity to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 by 2015, and it declined to do so on a 227-184 vote. Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV Outback) and Representative Joe Heck (R-NVTeaParty) both voted against the increase. Representatives Horsford (D-NV) and Titus (D-NV) voted in favor of the amendment. [roll call 174]
We can use a few charts to demonstrate why the Republican thinking on the subject of raising the minimum wage is counter-productive during an economic recovery. Before launching into the graphics, a simple reminder is in order. The only thing that encourages employment is DEMAND, i.e. there is more demand for an item or a service than current staffing levels can meet with acceptable levels of customer satisfaction. There are few ways to increase demand. Demand can be mandated, such as the requirement that individuals purchase private health insurance policies if they don’t already have such insurance in place. Demand can be generated by allowing tax incentives, such as the deduction allowed on home mortgages. Demand can be enhanced by creating a “must have” product. However, there are limits to these three basic demand elements.
The limit is INCOME. As we’ve seen during the debate over the health care reform issue, we can mandate that individuals purchase health insurance from private corporations, but if they cannot afford it then provisions have to be put in place to augment their financial capacity to do so. Likewise, all the home mortgage deductions in the world won’t assist the housing market if the homeowners are unemployed or become under-employed such that they can no longer afford the payments. There are numerous “must have” products and services on the market — but, people are also willing to “get by” without them if the price of the new product or service is beyond their reach. Smart Phones are wonderful items, but for a household straining on income from minimum wage jobs they are “might someday have,” rather than “must have now” products.
Now to the charts. Atlantic published some handy charts related to how income is currently be distributed in the United States, and this first one illustrates where that income is going as well as any:
If productivity is increasing, then what happened to the income that is supposed to be generated? “Where did the gains from productivity go? Well, they went to the top. Household income, adjusted for inflation, has grown 12X more for the top 1% than for the middle 20% … and 24X more than the bottom 20%.” [Atlantic] Imagine that spending (demand) is like dragging a weight in order to get to the retail counter. A person in the top 1% of all income earners in the U.S. has a weight 12X lighter than the Middle Class Americans in the line, and 24X lighter than the burden for those in the lower income categories. The problem is that as of 2012 there were approximately 1,699,000 households in the United States with income above $250,000 annually, out of 114,761,359 households in total. This works out to about 1.48% of the households in the nation seeing an increase in their income while the other 98.52% are looking at stagnating or decreasing incomes. Here’s what the result looks like from one of the Atlantic business section charts:
This isn’t healthy. Nor is it well explained by reverting to vague grandstanding about this is “America,” or we want “freedom.” Or, isn’t “Liberty” nice? Demand isn’t an abstraction. It IS the cumulative result of all the daily economic transactions we make in the course of our mundane lives. How much to spend in the grocery store? Do we need new clothing? How many pairs of jeans will the kids need this year?
How does the minimum wage look in this context? “In 1964, the minimum wage was about 50% of the average worker’s hourly earnings. By 2011, that figure fell to 37%.” [Atlantic] In short, in 1964 those earning minimum wages had more “buying power” than they do now. Buying Power = Demand.
So, what Representatives Amodei and Heck are telling us in roll call vote 174 is that they see no need to address the increasing variance in income across economic lines, and they see no need to increase the purchasing capacity of American workers. They give every appearance of clinging mightily to the comforting mythology of Voodoo Economics, in which a consumer based economy is to be supported by real transference of wealth to the upper 1.48% of American households who will “invest” in “jobs.” The Republican screeds about “re-distribution of wealth” as a form of Socialist-Commie Plot to Destroy America are a distraction from the real re-distribution of wealth which is now eroding the purchasing capacity of America’s middle and lower economic classes and destroying our consumer based free market economy.