Raising the Minimum Wage Through Lies and Manipulation
It's not surprising to see another renewed push to raise Utah's minimum wage to above the federal standard. It's also not surprising to see many of the advocates pulling out the same old lies and tired mantras that sound like little more than the meaningless platitudes that they are. At the heart of it all, those pushing for a higher state minimum wage will manipulate the data and outright lie to get their agenda passed.
The most common lie is the pull to the heartstrings about the family with two minimum wage jobs that just can't make ends meet. The reality is that someone who is married is half as likely to be earning at or below the federal minimum as someone who has never been married. Even those who are divorced or widowed are far less likely to earn at or below the federal minimum than those who are never married. (See BLS tables.) They also tend to be very young: those under 25 make up over half of those earning at or under minimum wage, and a quarter of minimum wage earners are 16-19. (See BLS fact sheet.) These young workers also tended to not be married, thus dispelling the myth that young families being disproportionately hit.
The elderly also make up a large portion of those who are earning minimum wage, mostly due to retirees taking on an easy job to stay busy. The percentage of those earning minimum wage declines with age under you get to 65 and over. These seniors aren't supporting a family: they're keeping busy and supplementing their retirement funds. (See BLS tables.)
Most of those earning minimum wage aren't even working full-time hours. Almost 51% of minimum wage workers put in 35 hours or less, and 20.8% put in exactly 40 hours. Only a scant 3.1% of minimum wage workers work more than 41 hours per week. (See BLS tables.)
Utah's numbers for minimum wage are higher than a lot of other states, but there are a lot of factors to consider. First, Utah has a lot of agriculture jobs and manual labor in those fields is generally pretty cheap. When compared to other farm states like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa, Utah fares pretty well. Secondly, Utah's high birth rates give it the youngest population in the state (see here). Since the young make up such a large component of minimum wage workers, it stands to reason this would skew it upwards as well.
In my own crunching of census data, I found a pretty obvious (and not terribly surprising) trend: states with a higher than federal minimum wage experienced slower average wage growth, higher taxes, and higher spending on social services for the poor. Granted, this is correlation and not causation, but the finding is still something worth talking about. Even though the minimum was raised, more social services were required! How else can you explain a higher proportion of state revenues going towards services for the indigent and increased rates of taxation? This destroys the myth that the minimum wage can be a living wage. Instead, it expands the pool of those who can't get by on their own.
Getting away from the numbers, let's talk sensibly. Minimum wage is just that: a minimum. It's a baseline for jobs that require little to no education and a minimal skillset. Most of the work is labor-intensive and doesn't require much thinking. The vast majority of those earning minimum wage have less than an associates degree with virtually no minimum wage earners as you get into a bachelor's degree and above. Given this, wouldn't it make more sense to promote education rather than raising the price of labor to an artificial level? No, no, we can't do that. Such a thing would actually address a cause rather than an effect.
I haven't even gotten into the real shell game played by those seeking to raise the state minimum wage. The way they like to sell it is to tell you "we're increasing it to $7 an hour." What they don't disclose is that this is done not by pegging the state minimum at $7, but by making the law require that the state minimum be $1.85 over the federal minimum. At the same time, they're looking to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Should both of these things come to pass it would mean that the minimum in the state of Utah could, in just a few years, skyrocket from $5.15 an hour to $9.10 an hour! An increase like that of nearly 80% would be disastrous, destroying buying power through greatly inflated labor costs and eroding the buying power of the middle class significantly since there is no "trickle up" effect.
Nevada has been played with this tune by the AFL-CIO. Their motivation? Keep the floor rising so they can continually demand more and more for union workers and thus more and more union dues in the coffers. Unions aren't be altruistic or even looking out for their members: they want the dollars in their own pockets. Only a few in that state who read the law know that it's being sold as a mere $1-an-hour increase but contains a lot of provisions to raise it much higher, including pegging it as a dollar above federal AND doing a 3% per year increase for inflation. Because Nevadans are disastrously inserting this into their constitution, the only way to undo it is two successive elections to repeal it. Let's learn some lessons from our foolhardy neighbors to the west!
With all of these lies and manipulation, I don't think we can trust the main proponents of an increased minimum wage to give us the straight scoop. Let's hope our legislators are smart enough to know what they're up to and see right through it.