Obama, the Minimum Wage, and Democratic Politics as Usual
“Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” President Obama said that earlier this year in his State of the Union address.
Sounds good to me. Who doesn’t want hard-working Americans who put in at least 40 hours a week to make enough to live on and support their families?
And a hike in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as the president proposes, would lift 900,000 families out of poverty, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. That’s the good news. But CBO also says, it could reduce the number of jobs the economy creates by 500,000 positions. That’s the bad news.
"Some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly," according to the CBO.
The White House says the CBO has it all wrong.
"Zero is a perfectly reasonable estimate of the impact of the minimum wage on employment," according to Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman.
But the Republicans don’t agree. They say instead of reducing poverty, a higher minimum wage would increase poverty – because of all the jobs that would be lost.
"This report confirms what we've long known: while helping some, mandating higher wages has real costs, including fewer people working,” says John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House. “With unemployment Americans' top concern, our focus should be creating — not destroying — jobs for those who need them most.”
Here’s something else we’ve long known. The president proposed the hike in the minimum wage at least in part because polls show the American people like it. Do they know that mandatory higher wages could cost their fellow Americans half a million jobs? That would require following the news, which is asking way too much of way too many Americans.
As for President Obama: Maybe he believes the CBO is wrong, maybe not. Maybe politics is all that matter to him. After all, he knows Republicans won’t vote for a big increase in the minimum wage. Not now, anyway. He knows it won’t become law before the November midterm elections. He knows he won’t have to answer if half a million jobs disappear and the unemployment rate starts to head north again.
And so Mr. Obama can portray Republicans as cold-blooded and heartless in the midterm elections, as out-of-touch fat cats who don’t care about the little guy, while at the same time portraying himself and his fellow Democrats as saviors of the downtrodden, especially of women, a group Democrats always need to win elections.
Not a bad strategy: Say what the voters want to hear – and don’t worry about the downside because there won’t be any.
Too bad Mr. Obama isn’t nearly as cunning when it comes to dealing with Vladimir Putin.