The Dalles To the editor:
Since the minimum wage has once again become a popular topic of debate, here is something to consider:
In 1968 the federal minimum wage was the equivalent of over $10 per hour, yet unemployment was below 4 percent and the economy was actually overheating.
This has interesting implications. Had the real minimum wage kept pace with productivity growth for the past 45 years, it would be over $18 per hour. Yet by arguing that a proposed federal minimum wage of $10.10 would kill jobs and hurt the economy, opponents are essentially arguing that low-wage workers are actually less productive than their counterparts were two generations ago.
Of course, this conclusion sounds utterly ridiculous since most such employees today are hard-working adults, not teenagers. And the industries they tend to work in have improved their supply chains and technology considerably over the past several decades, which increases productivity.
So while going all the way to $18 may or may not be feasible, I’m confident that our economy could support a $12 nationwide minimum wage in today’s real dollars, provided it is phased in over several years. Since low-wage workers spend their earnings very quickly, any increases would prime consumer demand, which is exactly what the economy needs right now.
But the first priority is the $10.10 federal minimum wage initiative.
Not only will it lift up to 5 million Americans out of poverty, but it will pave the way for several states — hopefully including Oregon — to raise their own minimum wages to $12 or $13 in 2016, which in turn could set the stage for $15 in expensive cities like Seattle.
I believe the only long-term solution to capitalism’s current difficulties is a stronger wage base, and minimum wages are one way to help do just that. National polls indicate that even a narrow majority of Republican voters support a $10.10 federal minimum wage.
Given this fact, we should challenge Representative Greg Walden to endorse the idea. His response will be most informative.