originally appeared in the Hartford Courant.


Higher Minimum Wage Would Boost Economy


6:45 PM EDT, October 26, 2012

As the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon draws to a close, notably absent from the two campaigns’ messages is any upfront position or debates about raising the minimum wage.

So where do the two candidates for Senate stand on this important issue?

Unfortunately, McMahon continues to keep voters in the dark about where she stands on increasing the minimum wage. The last time McMahon ran for U.S. Senate, in 2010, she could not even answer a question about what the minimum wage was! This year, she has yet to articulate a clear position to Connecticut voters on the minimum wage: Would she increase it, cut it, keep it the same or eliminate it all together?

On the other hand, although Murphy has been strangely passive about his position on the minimum wage, voters have a past record to look to for answers. In 2007, as a congressman in Connecticut’s 5th District, Murphy voted to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. Just this year, he co-sponsored pro forma legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014. But being on the record is not being on the ramparts.

The merits of raising the minimum wage are clear. Since 1968, the minimum wage has lost nearly 50 percent of its value — had it kept pace with inflation since 1968, it would be at $10.57 per hour, instead of the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 (Connecticut’s minimum wage is $8.25 per hour).

Increasing the minimum wage could help jump-start the economy and increase consumer spending. A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that for every dollar increase in the hourly pay of a minimum wage worker, the result is $2,800 in new consumer spending from that worker’s household annually. A 2009 study from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that simply by raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour, $60 billion in additional spending would be added to the economy over two years.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage claim that it would increase unemployment. In fact, most studies not funded by corporate front groups show that raising the minimum wage has little or no net impact on unemployment. Small-business lobby groups often oppose raising the minimum wage. But small businesses have already received 18 tax breaks during the Obama presidency and the minimum wage is way behind what they paid workers, inflation-adjusted, in 1968!

Moreover, according to the National Employment Law Project, two-thirds of low-wage workers are employed by large, highly profitable corporations, such as Walmart and McDonald’s.

Disappointingly, our federal officials have failed to lead on the minimum wage over the past four years. President Barack Obama promised during the 2008 campaign to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011. It is now four years later and there has been no White House pressure for an increase to the depreciating minimum wage and no congressional vote on the issue.

In light of all of this, why hasn’t Murphy taken the lead on this vintage Democratic Party issue, going back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1938 law, and really championed the minimum wage on the campaign trail?

A recent national poll by John Zogby shows that 70 percent of likely voters support raising the minimum wage. On top of its popularity, raising the minimum wage could help more consumer demand turn the economy around and speaks directly to the 30 million American workers stranded between an hourly wage of $7.25 and $10.

A candidate who champions an increase in the minimum wage could energize a bloc of lower-income voters, which often has poor turnout on Election Day. Connecticut Voices for Children estimates that nearly 100,000 workers are paid at or near the Connecticut minimum wage. Tens of thousands more workers make between $8.25 and $10 per hour. The same Connecticut Voices report estimates raising the minimum wage to $9.75 per hour would boost the income of 226,000 workers in Connecticut. What was the margin of victory in the 2010 election between Democrat, Richard Blumenthal and Republican, Linda McMahon? Less than 140,000 votes.

What other issue is as popular with voters, speaks directly to such a large bloc of hard-pressed, deserving Americans, benefits the economy and simply put — is the right, long overdue, thing to do?

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate. His new book, The Seventeen Solutions, lays out his prescription for curing America’s social and economic ills: http://www.seventeensolutions.com