By: Robert Scott
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
I subscribe to the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s newsletter, and this week the top issue was not The Emergency At The Border, but something that affects us in Edgefield County more directly: raising the minimum wage. The current federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, has not been increased in almost 10 years. This is not the wage paid only to high schoolers and others working at fast food outlets while living at home; there are millions of Americans for whom the minimum wage must pay all their expenses. In 2003, the Church officially recognized that it is wrong that a family of four in America could live in poverty with the provider employed full-time. Here in rural South Carolina, there are many such families, and they are our neighbors. Increasing the minimum wage is not only about the economics of workers providing for their families. It is a moral issue.
There is a bill currently before Congress called the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, sponsored by a Virginia congressman with the very auspicious name Robert Scott (D-VA-3), At the latest count, there are 190 co-sponsors (all Democrats). If enacted, it would raise the minimum wage immediately to $8.55 an hour, followed in yearly increments by raises to $9.85, then $11.15 a year later, and continuing up to a level of $15.00 beginning five years from now. After that, the minimum wage would be tied to median workers’ pay, meaning if the average worker’s wages continue to go up, so would the minimum wage. It also means that during a recession in which the median wage goes down, so would the minimum wage. It is difficult to argue that raising the minimum wage would damage South Carolina’s business climate. Four states (California, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey) have already mandated a $15 minimum wage, and all of them are financially more prosperous than South Carolina
For those who are not persuaded by the moral argument alone, the EPPN points out a further economic benefit: a reduction in demand for federal and state anti-poverty programs. A higher minimum wage would mean that the government would not need to subsidize employers like Walmart, whose average wage is $12 an hour. Walmart shows its generosity by hosting food drives for its needy employees. A recent Washington Post article documented statistics verifying a claim by Bernie Sanders, that the Walton family earns more from Walmart in one minute than their typical worker earns in one year. Walmart’s profit margin would be lower if they paid their employees enough to need neither food drives nor government support. Walmart employees should be paid enough that they do not need nor qualify for support paid for by all taxpayers, even those taxpayers who do not shop at Walmart.
The Episcopal Public Policy Network in their newsletter asks all of us to write letters to Congress, urging them to support Congressman Scott’s bill. The economy has been improving ever since we came out of recession during President Obama’s administration. A rising tide should raise all boats, not just high-priced yachts. Now is the time to raise the minimum wage.