Cross-posted from Smirking Chimp
"We're a movement now," fast-food worker Latoya Caldwell said Wednesday of the effort by employees in her industry to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour. That movement's latest action was a one-day strike that took place in 150 cities across the country on Thursday. It included acts of civil disobedience that activists said led to more than 500 arrests (including that of Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore).
New York. Detroit. Kansas City. Chicago. Los Angeles. Little Rock. Atlanta. Boston. Charleston. Hartford. Miami. Philadelphia... All day long there was a sense of electricity in the air as reports came in from one city after another.
The fast-food workers' issue, a higher minimum wage, is one most Americans understand. It is a cause, and a source of political energy, that Democrats would be wise to embrace. With the midterm elections only two months away, the Democratic Party's prospects seem doubtful. Experts give Democrats little chance of retaking the House, and they are in grave danger of losing the Senate.
The party needs a spark, a fire, a source of inspiration. It may find those things in an embrace of the minimum wage.
The cause certainly appeals to the electorate. Two-thirds of voters in a recent poll supported an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10, while 43 percent wanted it raised even further.
What's more, Americans understand that ours is an unequal economy, one that is rigged against them. In a poll released this week, for example, 54 percent of Americans agreed that "the widening income gap between the wealthy and everyone else is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity for a better standard of living."
In polls taken earlier this year, 55 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that "the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me," while 67 percent believed that the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing and 59 percent agreed that the American dream has become impossible for most people to achieve. (See PopulistMajority.org for details and additional polling data.)
Voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly passed an increase in that state's minimum wage in 2012, even as they re-elected Republican Chris Christie to a second term as governor. Christie was declared a "national contender" after receiving 60 percent of the vote. By that logic, the minimum wage is a contender, too, since that measure passed in New Jersey by a virtually identical margin. (And there's been no "bridge scandal" for the minimum wage.)
People intuitively understand that the minimum wage doesn't just affect workers at the bottom of the pay scale, but also addresses deeper and broader issues of fairness and economic growth. This issue offers candidates a unique opportunity to crystallize voters' reasonable but often amorphous concerns around a specific, and quite concrete, government action.
And the idea is based on sound economic principles. Consider: If we increased the minimum wage to $10.10, as Democrats have proposed, that would barely return it to what it would have been had it kept pace with inflation over the last 45 years.
Our minimum wage is well below that of other developed nations, and would still lag behind many of them at $10.10. (Source: International Labor Organization)
If the minimum wage had kept pace with increases in productivity since 1968, it would be $21.72. Instead, corporations and wealthy individuals have kept those gains for themselves. (Source: John Schmitt, CEPR)
During the decades that the minimum wage kept with productivity, we experienced an average of 4 percent annual GDP growth and 4 percent unemployment. (Source: Baker and Kimball, CEPR)