$22 minimum wage: Could it pass Congress?

$22 minimum wage, per hour, is an idea that Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised at a recent hearing. President Obama has suggested raising the rate from the current $7.25 to $9.

Cliff Owen/AP
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts questions a witness at Senate Banking Committee hearing on anti-money laundering on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 7. Warren suggested at a recent hearing raising the minimum wage to $22 per hour.

Should the minimum wage be $22 an hour? That’s what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts suggested at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Here’s her logic: If you took the minimum wage from 1960 and indexed it for workers’ gains in productivity, it would be $22 an hour today. And why shouldn’t employees reap the benefits of their own improved labor practices?, she asked at the hearing, rhetorically. Today, the actual minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“What happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn’t go to the worker,” Senator Warren said.

Those gains went to corporate and top-executive profits, said a witness at the hearing, Arindrajit Dube, an economist from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. That’s simply more evidence of how income inequality has grown in America, he said.

“It is quite remarkable that had the minimum wage kept up with overall productivity, it would have been $22 per hour in 2011,” Dr. Dube said in his prepared remarks. “Had it kept up with the growth in income going to the top 1 percent, it would have been even higher, at $24 per hour; and the wage would have exceeded $33 per hour at its peak in 2007.”

Hold on a second there, economic conservatives: Neither Warren nor Dube was actually suggesting raising the minimum wage that high as a matter of public policy. Doing so in one go would crash companies and destroy jobs.

“Rather, the exercise demonstrates how different the growth rates have been for incomes going to those at the bottom of the labor market as compared to the economy as a whole and to those at the top end of the distribution,” Dube said.

The fact is that even tacking a few bucks on to today’s $7.25 minimum wage would be a hard political lift. It’s almost certain to face stiff opposition in the GOP-controlled House.

President Obama in his State of the Union message suggested raising the rate to $9. He’s still pushing that, saying Monday at the introduction of his new nominee for secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, that “a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa has introduced legislation that would push the minimum wage even a bit higher, to $10.10.

“We don’t want minimum-wage workers left behind and left out of this recovery,” he said last week when introducing the legislation.

But those who employ many low-wage workers are adamantly opposed to something that they say would cost some employment.

Going from $7.25 to $10.10 is almost a 40 percent wage increase, noted David Rutigliano, a partner in SBC Restaurant Group of Shelton, Conn., at the Senate Health panel hearing.

“At a time when many businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and in some cases employers are forgoing their own paychecks to avoid laying off employees, mandating wage increases will only hurt those employees which his proposal seeks to help,” he said in his own prepared statement.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.