A Tough Sell for Democrats
For the past several weeks, many Democrats up for reelection have been promoting legislation that would extend emergency unemployment benefits, increase the minimum wage, and demand equal pay for women. As the Washington Post recently put it, Democrats “have declared themselves the party that will ensure a “fair shot” for all.” Branding themselves as the party of “fairness” will help them avoid another midterm election like 2010, or so their thinking goes.
But are nice sounding slogans really what America care’s about, or should constituents consider a bit more?
As the Post also reports, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), one of the most vulnerable red state Democrats, said that what people in Louisiana care about is “jobs and economic opportunity.”
It’s just unfortunate that politicians like Landrieu are too concerned with reelection to reflect upon the actual implications of the policies they’re promoting. The Heritage Foundation has filled that void, where analysts have rightly pointed out the huge detriments that would result from the legislative goals Democrats are championing. For example, with regard to alleged (but virtually nonexistent) pay gap between women and men, Steven Moore notes:
Gender gaps in pay are also a distraction from the other real financial problem, which is declining pay for almost all groups. Between 2009 and 2012, every racial group and both genders have done worse.
Income, race, and gender inequality have been clever distractions for the president. The gap that matters most he chooses to ignore: the gap between what middle-class people should be earning and what they are in fact taking home. Wages are falling for nearly everyone, Mr. President: for men, women, blacks, whites, the poor, and the middle class.
Related to this issue is, of course, the minimum wage. Just as focusing on the non-existent pay gap will do nothing to improve the economy, increasing the minimum wage without considering the effects on entry-level workers will only harm those trying to enter the middle class. Heritage explains that businesses would respond to an unprecedented minimum wage increase by hiring fewer entry-level workers:
Most minimum-wage jobs are entry-level positions filled by workers with limited education and experience. Almost three-fifths of minimum-wage workers have no more than a high school education, and half are under the age of 25. They work for the minimum wage because they currently lack the productivity to command higher pay.
Minimum-wage jobs give these workers experience and teach them essential job skills. Often these skills pertain more to general employability than to a particular job: the discipline of being a reliable employee, learning how to interact with customers and coworkers, how to accept direction from a boss, etc. These skills are essential to getting ahead in the workplace but difficult to learn without actual on-the-job experience.
Once workers gain these skills, they become more productive, and most quickly earn raises or move to higher-paying jobs. Over two-thirds of workers starting out at the minimum wage earn more than that a year later. Minimum-wage increases saw off this bottom rung of many workers’ career ladders.
Policies that diminish Americans’ chances of ever entering the middle class are not “fair.” It’s a shame Democrats don’t think through the implications of these policies before they make them the center of their reelection platforms.