Sunday, January 07, 2007

BARBOUR AND MINIMUM WAGE (written Thursday, 1/4)

Haley Barbour opposes raising the minimum wage in Mississippi to $7.25/hour, which would be 40% higher than the current national rate of $5.15. His laughable argument against such an increase is that it would, according to an AP article, “drive jobs out of this state.”

Having not read Barbour’s actual statement on this issue, just a brief AP story, I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine that the reason he thinks a minimum wage increase would drive jobs from Mississippi is because corporations and other employers are looking for places with cheap labor and would therefore be turned off by higher labor costs.

Why Haley is wrong

It is certainly true that corporations favor the lowest possible labor costs. So why aren’t all major corporations currently clamoring to get down to Mississippi? We not only offer low labor costs but also a “right to work” law. After all, as I pointed out in a post a few days ago, Mississippi ranks 49th in median household income–low wages are the norm in this state and people are mostly used to them, for better or worse.

In other words, it is absurd to argue that improving the wages of Mississippians will discourage corporate interests from setting up shop in the state, because corporations apparently aren’t interested in coming here under the current low-wage, right-to-work conditions. Why should Mississippians be kept in their current low-wage status when maintaining that status obviously isn’t acting as an incentive for corporations to move here? For that matter, why should that status be maintained even if corporations theoretically did want to move here? Mississippians have been poor long enough. Besides, isn’t the right-wing, cheap-labor conservative argument that minimum wage jobs are mostly held by teenage burger flippers anyway? If that’s true, what’s the difference if all the Wendys and McDonalds and Burger Kings close down and leave the state?

The difference, of course, is that a significant number of adults do work for minimum wage, and that many of the jobs that currently exist here and that would theoretically be brought here would be minimum wage positions. Barbour and the right-wingers know this but don’t want to admit it. Barbour wants to pretend that he would be doing Mississippians a favor by bringing in more jobs, but most jobs that would likely be brought in would be for minimum wage with minimal or no benefits. But if more corporations brought in even minimum wage jobs, Barbour could then argue that unemployment went down on his watch, even if the jobs that are created are not so-called “good jobs” that pay a living wage. After all, Barbour’s partner in crime George W. Bush called having three jobs “uniquely American.”

Raising the minimum wage will provide relief to a large number of Mississippians and will not punish corporations, who have no plans to come here anyway. And maybe one of the big reasons they don’t want to come here even with our current status quo of low wages is because of another statistic that I mentioned a few days ago: of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi has the fewest number of high school graduates who are 25 and older. Knowing that, many corporations likely feel that a lot of Mississippians aren’t even competent enough to make change, much less to make some high-tech product.

On top of all of that, the new Democratic congressional majority that was sworn in today has already said that they’re going to raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 over two years, the very policy Barbour despises, in the first 100 hours of their tenure. So Barbour’s objections not only reveal him to be a spiteful political hack who invariably sides with the rich and powerful, they are largely moot to begin with.

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