Arnie.010914

by Pete Mazzaccaro

It’s really, really cold as I write this. It’s the morning many of us were greeted by temperatures of 1 and 2 degrees. Staying out for more than five minutes would probably earn you a case of frostbite.

It’s been funny to read the comments of some I know on Facebook, who thought it would be so cold they’d have to cancel school, as if we don’t live in a time of heated public buildings and cars that start up easy, even in frigid weather.

That’s what counts as a major problem for many of us, that we might get really cold one or two days.

News reports today were full of the ominous term “polar vortex,” an ominous pseudo scientific phrase that sounds like it might have had an origin in some Star Trek episode. It has all the requisite implications of impending doom that we get so much from news – especially news of the weather.

But the cold will lift, and news will get back to what has become a pretty interesting and somewhat turbulent time in American politics. From a debate over gay marriage rights in the state of Utah, to how well or poor are the early days of the Affordable Health Care Act. These are serious issues that offer implications far larger than what size coat will I have to wear today.

The most interesting of these policy debates for me is the proposal to boost the minimum wage, a debate that has predictably divided our government along party lines. Democrats, led by President Obama, favor a nearly $3 an hour increase in the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Republicans claim that any government-mandated wage program will “kill jobs.”

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is also $7.25, with state arguments over increases falling along the very same party rationales.

Both sides have studies to back their positions. There are studies that have shown higher mandated wages lead to less hiring by small and large businesses. And there are studies that show the opposite.

The problem proponents of raising the minimum wage identify is that the minimum wage has lost its effectiveness over time as it has not risen at the same rate as the costs of living. What originally worked as a way to stave off poverty no longer works.

Despite what other studies might disagree about, most agree that a higher wage will in fact reduce poverty. According to Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, who analyzed a number of papers by economists studying the issue in a recent article for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, “A higher minimum wage will lead to a significant boost in incomes for the worst off in the bottom 30th percent of income, while having no impact on the median household.”

If Congress can agree that reducing poverty is a worthy goal, the path forward seems clear.

What will happen? Popular support seems to be on the side of a higher minimum wage. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed popular approval of raising the minimum wage is 63 percent. Many in government, however, have shown themselves to be fairly well insulated against acting on the basis of popular opinion.

The idea is this: A minimum wage increase will not affect many middle class people, but it will absolutely make life better for the very poor, and it will not require government spending, just a government kick in the pants to businesses that continue to pay their employees the bare minimum.

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