Guest Commentary

Guest commentary: Higher minimum wage helps the neediest workers

Protesters at The Paseo and 63rd Street joined hundreds of workers from the fast-food, child and elder care, education and other low-wage industries who participated in Fight for $15 rallies Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 in more than 300 cities across the country.
Protesters at The Paseo and 63rd Street joined hundreds of workers from the fast-food, child and elder care, education and other low-wage industries who participated in Fight for $15 rallies Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 in more than 300 cities across the country. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

People in the political world often refer to state and local governments as “laboratories of democracy.” The idea is that policies can be tested in different parts of the country, and we get to see how they work out.

For this to work, state and local governments need a certain amount of freedom and autonomy. In my experience, the biggest supporters of this approach to governing are Republicans who say they want the federal government to leave states alone.

The conversation around the minimum wage should be the perfect example of this. Currently, 29 of the 50 states have exercised their autonomy and set a minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. And dozens of cities have done the same locally. Take Missouri’s deep-red neighbor Nebraska, for example. At $9 an hour it has the highest minimum wage of any neighboring state — yet notably also has the lowest unemployment rate of any neighboring state at 3 percent.

Interestingly, many states with the lowest unemployment rate are states with a higher minimum wage, including lowest-in-the-nation Colorado, with 2.3 percent unemployment and a $9.30 an hour minimum. At the local level, the city of Seattle, which famously went to a $15 an hour minimum, is enjoying a 2.9 percent unemployment rate.

Of course, there are many factors that go into the overall economy, and minimum wage policy is just one. But what the “laboratories” tend to prove wrong, at the very least, are dire predictions that increasing the minimum wage will lead to shuttered businesses and massive job losses. Time and again, real facts from the real world prove that theory wrong.

What we do know for sure is that more than 80 percent of workers earning at or near the minimum wage are adults. They’re parents — often working two jobs — trying to support their family. They’re seniors struggling to get by. There are tens of millions of low wage jobs in America, and most are being done every day by hardworking American adults.

A few weeks ago workers in St. Louis got a raise to $10 an hour. The increase was voted on by the democratically elected leaders of the city and then upheld in court. It was truly an amazing, life-changing and unforgettable day for tens of thousands of our fellow Missourians.

The only thing state politicians had to do for them to keep their higher-paying jobs was … absolutely nothing. Simply put their own local control rhetoric into practice and allow democracy to work. Unfortunately, they chose instead to go out of their way to literally — and undeniably — lower people’s wages.

If Gov. Eric Greitens fails to veto HB 1194, then on Aug. 28 — nearly four months after receiving a badly needed, life-changing raise — tens of thousands of people will see their pay cut dramatically. That day will be just as unforgettable for them as the day they got the raise, only this time it’ll be because of the utter devastation it causes their families.

The good news? It doesn’t have to happen. Gov. Greitens: Stand up for people who work for a living. Veto the bill.

Jon Carpenter is a lifelong Kansas Citian who represents Missouri's District 15 in the House of Representatives.

  Comments