Minimum distraction: On balance, a higher wage is better for America

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Citing a loss of jobs for low-income Americans, Republicans have found, in a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, some ammunition in their battle against raising the minimum wage. It’s amazing how politicians who have opposed most programs and policies that benefit the disadvantaged are now trying to sound like champions of the working poor.

The GOP is doing that by focusing on the CBO’s assertion that raising the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage to $10.10 over three years, as President Barack Obama proposes, could cost the nation half a million jobs. Even if that were to happen, the benefits of the higher wage clearly would outweigh the potential costs.

First, the report takes no position on the proposal, which would increase the minimum wage automatically each year to meet the inflation rate. The report also states that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would lift nearly 1 million Americans out of poverty, with hourly wages rising for 16.5 million workers and overall earnings increasing by $31 billion.

Second, the CBO’s estimates on job losses are rough, and the agency acknowledges that. In fact, many economists believe an increase in the federal minimum wage would have little or no effect on the number of jobs — just as previous increases in the minimum wage have had negligible impact.

Finally, raising the minimum wage is a matter of simple fairness. If some economist estimated that lowering the minimum wage to, say, $2 an hour — virtual slave wages — would create a certain number of jobs, few Americans would regard it as a reasonable trade-off.

Congress last raised the minimum wage in 2009. Had it been adjusted for inflation over the past 40 years, it now would exceed $10 an hour — the bare minimum most researchers say single adults need to support themselves.

Mr. Obama and other Democrats who support raising the minimum wage should not hide from the CBO report. Nothing in it vitiates their position. On this issue, the American people are on their side.

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