The debate over raising the minimum wage is heating up. In November, voters in four states passed referendums that would increase the minimum wage. Now, Republicans are pushing back hard.

The free marketeers are casting doom and gloom scenarios to scare politicians away from support. The American Enterprise Institute has a post up titled, “How the minimum wage destroyed 1.4 million jobs.” The Locke Foundation’s John Hood claims that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would cost North Carolina between 7,300 and 46,000 jobs because employers will cut jobs to make up the increased cost.

Progressive think-tanks say they’re wrong. They cite their own studies that say raising the wage won’t affect jobs. The Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage leads to “no discernible impact on employment” and would give the economy a boost because low wage workers spend most of their money immediately, putting it back into the hands of merchants and businesses.

The debate gets to the heart of the problem facing American workers. While the stock market is at record levels and corporate executives are making record salaries, wages and income for working families have remained flat while the cost of living has continued to increase. That’s why so many people think the country is still in recession.

Raising the minimum wage may be an imperfect solution, but it’s at least a start. Republicans and conservatives don’t even have realistic way to address the problem–probably because they don’t see it as a problem. Hood says that workers need to “boost the productivity of their labor.”

But that’s the economic equivalent of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. The conservative answer is for workers to work harder, longer and smarter but the problem has little to do with workers and a lot to do with corporate greed. For thirty years, workers have been increasing their productivity only to see the benefit go to shareholders and CEOs.

Republicans like to scream about income redistribution but since the Reagan tax revolution, we’ve been shifting income from the workers to the wealthy. Our tax system rewards those who make their money from investments at the expense of those who work for wages. The result is a shrinking middle class and increasing income disparity.

Raising the minimum wage should be just the start. We need to revamp our tax code to encourage companies to pay their workers more so they share in the prosperity. If Republicans want to broaden the tax base, fine. But first they need to offer real solutions for increasing wages and incomes instead of telling workers they just need to work a little harder.


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