There is an interesting debate in the Minnesota Legislature about whether to approve an “inflator” for the minimum wage.
An inflator means the minimum wage would go up automatically, commensurate with the inflation rate. It would be similar to the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security checks, although that’s been diminished in the last year or two.
Some in the state legislature, mostly House members, want to let voters decide, through a referendum, if there should be an inflator, and then it would become law under the Minnesota Constitution. That way, it would be more difficult for future legislators to repeal. Other legislators oppose that approach, saying the constitution is a means to put in place a structure for how government should work, not to protect rights.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Virginia), who is one of the main proponents of the inflator concept, disagrees:
“The constitution is intended to protect the rights of the minority,” he said. “These low-wage workers are the minority of Minnesotans. This gives them some protection their wages would keep up with inflation. It meets my test that this is important enough it belongs in the constitution.”
Both sides make some good arguments, but what’s important is legislators seem to be serious, one way or another, about raising the minimum wage and economic justice for those people who work hard and yet remain beneath the poverty level. That issue – economic justice – has been on the back burner for far too long.
Minnesota’s minimum wage is a pathetic $6.15 an hour. It hasn’t been raised since 2005. Meantime, inflation has gobbled up the “real” value of that paltry wage ever since it was passed nine years ago.
There is a current proposal in the legislature to raise it to $9.50 by 2016. Of course, inflation will eat into that amount, too, and by 2016 that $9.50 will have diminished in value.
Polls indicate consistently as many as 80 percent of Americans, including Minnesotans, favor raising the minimum wage. We keep hearing dire warnings of job loss, but in the past, every time the wage was raised, the effects on jobs were negligible, and people and businesses made adjustments. In fact, quite the contrary, a minimum-wage raise might be just the thing to help stimulate a still sluggish economy. When people earn more money, they spend it locally. People who make low wages, in fact, tend to spend their money on the kinds of local goods and services that can boost local economies – thus job gains.
It’s obvious the obstructionists in the U.S. Congress are not going to allow a minimum-wage increase, just the way they’ve prevented through spite and neglect other vital forms of legislation in recent years. That is why states have begun to enact legislation, including minimum-wage bills, on their own. They’re having to do the job the do-nothing national congress doesn’t do.
And that is why Minnesota, like other enlightened states, should act immediately to raise the minimum wage one way or another, either through legislation or by popular vote.