A minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is an insult to hard-working Americans trying to support families. That base figure should have been raised years ago, but a successive cadre of self-serving politicians saw to it that working-class folks were kept in their “rightful place,” as they did the bidding of greedy corporate CEOs.

Be that as it may, there are several ways a sudden and drastic bump to $15 an hour could be catastrophic at this time. One has to do with the pain being inflicted on businesses by the pandemic – and that’s why the minimum wage hike had no place in the stimulus package passed a few days ago by the House of Representatives.

President Joe Biden had made raising the minimum wage a cornerstone of his campaign, and he’s not the first. Trump, Obama, and Bush also paid lip service to the idea. After all, only a fool would think anyone in New York City or Los Angeles could scrape by on $15,000 a year. Still, when it comes to COVID-19 relief, doubling the pay of millions of workers – or even assuring a metered uptick as part of that deal – would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It’s understandable that activists are faunching at the bit to pull their fellow Americans out of poverty. But when it comes to timing on matters such as this one, it’s fair to say that erstwhile presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders can be viewed as a belwether. Sanders has championed a minimum wage increase since time out of mind, but even he has apparently decided the relief package isn’t the right vehicle for it.

The Senate parliamentarian last week ruled that under rules Democrats have adopted to push the stimulus bill, the minimum wage hike would be inadmissible. Sanders and others entertained a backup plan to penalize behemoth corporations that refuse to pay $15 an hour, probably because they know these companies can afford it. But economic experts have said that plan is rife with loopholes and tough to enforce, and even liberal thinkers are skittish.

Congress has several other things to think about. While mega-corporations can foot the $15-an-hour tab without considerable pain, that’s not true for small businesses. And even if those small businesses got a “bye” on the raises or a few years to implement them, trying to compete with the higher-paying mega-corporations for quality labor would be almost impossible. In fact, many larger multi-state companies would have to trim staff – including newspaper companies. Even the Congressional Budget Office admits the hike would cost 1.4 million jobs, at least in the short term.

If the bottom line of a company or business doesn’t permit the additional expense, what else could the owners do? Simply close up shop and start praying? What about workers who are suddenly without the $13-an-hour jobs they had last year? Apply for welfare? Hope for yet another round of stimulus checks? And what would that do for the morale of employees who worked for years to achieve the $15 an hour rate? It’s implausible to expect companies to give those people comparative raises.

Someone in Congress needs to think of a more creative way to boost minimum wages, and to do it outside the relief package that needs Senate approval. Among the ideas to consider would be the tiered increase over a span of a few years – as has been on the drawing board, anyway – or better yet, minimum wages connected to the cost of living in respective parts of the country. After all, $15 an hour will go much farther in Tahlequah than in New York City.

Tahlequah Daily Press

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