NPR has done two recent stories examining the battle over the minimum wage, its historical progression in American politicsleading up to a recent increase proposal by Sen.Tom Harkin, and a current bitter dispute between political leaders and city employees regarding the wage in Scranton, PA.
Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democratic, has introduced a bill in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9.88 an hour from $7.25. NPR reports that 18 states have set minimum wage rates slightly higher than the national level, while four states actually have exemptions and even lower minimums. The increase may seem reasonable and could make a difference for millions of Americans, but opponents of Sen. Harkin's proposal say that it could lead to increases in already high unemployment, as small business owners claim an increase would foce them to make cuts. Employers cannot increase wages for workers to a standard set by the government if the revenue is not there.
In Scranton, a political fight between political leaders has sunk the pay for every city employee to $7.25 an hour — minimum wage. NPR reports:
Last week Mayor Chris Doherty slashed pay, on his own, saying Scranton had run out of money. Lackawanna County Judge Michael Barrasse issued an injunction telling the city it must recognize pay rates spelled out in union contracts. But Doherty continues to violate that court order.
Scranton's Mayor and Council are all Democrats, but have different views on how to remedy the finances of a city that has arguably been in decline since the end of World War II. The Mayor wants to increase taxes, the council wants to find other sources of revenue to fill a $16.8 million budget gap. NPR reports that the unions representing police, fire fighters and public works employees are threatening to file a contempt of court motion against the mayor, hoping that will help their members get their old salaries back, while starting a new week earning minimum wage.
Debate around achieving a practical minimum wage in the midst of economic uncertainty once again brings us to a question that has always percolated in American politics but come to a head of late "What is fair?"
Will raising the minimum wage to what the government, rather than the market, deems to be "fair" help or hurt the economy? Watch a segment from "Real News" Tuesday dissecting the current politics surrounding the minimum wage, as well as a debate on the concept's practicality: