Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Raise the minimum wage AND bring on universal health care

The Wisconsin Senate may very well be on the cusp of passing a comprehensive and much-needed minimum wage hike today, but it's looking like the bill will face a very tough, up-hill battle to pass through the Republican wasteland of the Assembly. Whether it ever makes it to Gov. Doyle's desk is very much in doubt.

The bill would "raise Wisconsin's minimum wage each year based on inflation" and would also "immediately increase the minimum wage from $6.50 to $7.25 an hour."

Powerful interests, including the state's largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, are against it.

Twenty-three other states have minimum wages higher than Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Of those, 10 allow for increases based on inflation.

I think I understand where the opposition comes from, especially on the part of small business owners. It is a great added expense, and they're already strapped for cash by skyrocketing health care costs for employees. In fact, according to a 2006 survey by the WMC, the top business concern facing companies in Wisconsin was listed as "health care costs." Not regulation, not taxes, not litigation, but the astronomically high price of providing some kind of health coverage to your employees. If the Republicans in this state really were as pro-business (and pro-small business, especially) as they claim to be, they would have actually supported and passed the Healthy Wisconsin bill that had been attached to the (extremely tardy) state budget.

Instead, there was a great wailing and gnashing of neo-con teeth, claims that it would put an undue tax burden on the citizens of this great state, and near apoplexy over a provision to subsidize care of illegal immigrants.

And so the great burden of providing health insurance continued to be heaped onto the shoulders of Wisconsin businesses. In a rational world, they'd be the banner carriers of universal health care, but for some reason many of the leaders of various business related associations seem hell-bent on opposing anything the Democrats introduce, even if it is good for them.

Thing is, I suspect that business leaders would be far less opposed to minimum wage hikes if they weren't already hemorrhaging money for health care.

Let's be honest, it makes absolutely perfect sense to raise the minimum wage in tandem with inflation. Think of how much gas prices have gone up in recent months (we're averaging $3.07/gallon), which has in turn caused the price of food to rise as well. How do we expect workers to be able to afford to contribute to the economy if they can't buy even basic things like food and gas? It's all connected - provide a universal health coverage program because it's the right thing to do and to take the burden off businesses, and those businesses in turn can afford to better pay their employees, who can then afford to contribute monetarily to our consumerist economy.

Setting a minimum wage is absolutely the right thing to do. Claiming that it won't actually help those people working entry-level and low-paying jobs is a load of bull, especially when related issues (i.e. health care) are taken into account and dealt with in some reasonable fashion. Left to their own devices, companies are notoriously bad about providing fair compensation for labor. You've only to research what the labor climate was like prior to federal minimum wage laws to see what I mean.

(h/t to Waxing America for covering these issues extensively in recent posts)

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