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The case for raising the minimum wage keeps getting stronger

It's been too cold to campaign in frozen North Dakota. But as spring has crept across the state, an ...

Posted: Apr 27, 2018 1:52 PM
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 1:52 PM

It's been too cold to campaign in frozen North Dakota. But as spring has crept across the state, an unusual ballot initiative is starting to emerge: One that would more than double the minimum wage, from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2021.

"The places we can gather signatures the best are at the parades and the waiting lines at the outhouses," says Scott Nodland, a citizen activist leading the effort. "We expect that now that the snow just melted and temperatures hit the high 50s, we can begin to do something."

It's an unusual platform for the deep red state, which voted 63% for President Trump in 2016.

But support for higher minimum wages has transcended partisan politics before. A wave of purple states - including Colorado, Arizona, and Maine - voted in wage hikes last election cycle.

Raising the minimum wage has been hotly debated in cities and states for years. Supporters argue that it's a remedy for widening wage inequality and will boost consumer spending, while opponents counter that it could reduce opportunities for employment, particularly for teenagers and others looking for entry level or low-skilled jobs.

Related: The US needs to do a better job training its workers. Here's how

Now, another batch of proposed wage hikes is headed for ballots in 2018, with initiatives underway in Massachusetts, Missouri, Michigan, Washington, and Washington D.C. And this time, as research on earlier minimum wage hikes piles up, the impact on workers is starting to become more clear.

The outlook? While some jobs could be lost as a consequence of more ambitious jumps in the minimum wage, the vast majority of workers who remain employed will enjoy higher pay and the economy overall isn't expected to suffer as a result.

For example, one study released last month by economists at the University of California, San Diego and the American Enterprise Institute estimated that minimum wage hikes of more than a dollar implemented between 2013 and 2016 - such as those in California, Washington, and New York - reduced employment among low-skilled workers by just under 1.5%. The impact on jobs in states with smaller wage increases was more variable, and occasionally there was a positive outcome, possibly because more people were drawn back into the labor market by the better pay.

However, research has also generally found that minimum wage hikes put more money in workers' pockets overall. Another study out last month from two Census Bureau economists found that, based on previous minimum wage increases, a 10% hike would raise income growth for workers in the bottom quarter of wage earners by about 10% - even including any possible reduction in hours.

Considering this new evidence, progressives have shifted from arguing that minimum wage hikes don't lead to job loss to arguing that even if they do, most workers are still better off.

A recent paper from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute points out that people often switch jobs in low-wage industries, so even a 3% loss in jobs could just mean that all workers end up with 3% fewer total hours - but if they were paid 10% more for those hours, everybody comes out ahead.

Related: The gender pay gap isn't just about what you make

Another strand of research from economists at the University of California, Irvine and the London School of Economics finds that higher minimum wages push employers to automate low-wage work - think ordering kiosks in fast-food restaurants - which opponents have used to slam minimum wage measures.

But here's another way of looking at it: America has seen low-productivity growth for the past decade, so investments in labor-saving technology should be welcome. A slew of reports, including one released this month by the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that displaced workers should then be trained for higher-value, better-paid jobs that robots have yet to learn how to do.

That's not the only way in which higher minimum wage could make the economy more efficient. As the market for low-wage labor has gotten more concentrated, some economists have theorized that large employers haven't needed to bargain as hard for workers, so they've kept pay artificially depressed.

"Employers have the power to set wages," says Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "And when it's not completely determined by perfect competition, they are going to set wages too low, and they will always complain that they can't find enough workers at the going wage."

Scott Nodland sees that phenomenon at play in North Dakota, which has an ultra low 2.6% unemployment rate and hourly wages that have fallen behind the national average, despite the abundance of highly paid oil and gas work.

Related: For gig economy workers in these states, rights are at risk

"On the North Dakota job service site, there are 14,400 jobs available," Nodland, who has worked in many fields and refers to himself as an "entrepreneur," says. "And last year, there was a net loss of population in North Dakota. Obviously something is out of balance, and I'm suggesting it's wages."

It's not just North Dakota. Activists pushing minimum wage increases all over the country are doing so out of a sense that poor people haven't shared in what otherwise looks like a booming economy. Although wage growth did accelerate for lower income workers in 2015 and 2016, it hasn't been enough to make up decades of lost ground.

A national group called the Fairness Project, funded by a California healthcare union, is taking that message to several states this cycle with minimum wage campaigns as well as ballot initiatives that would expand Medicaid and require employers to offer paid sick leave. They've calculated, based on data assembled by EPI, that wage increases implemented since the beginning of 2017 have put an extra $4 billion in workers' pockets.

"While unemployment is low, we're seeing pretty stagnant wages," says Fairness Project director Jonathan Scheifer. "And the only places we've seen wage increases is where there's been an increase in the minimum wage."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313942

Reported Deaths: 7240
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21580258
Hinds20330415
Harrison17879309
Rankin13594278
Jackson13429246
Madison10088217
Lee9970174
Jones8370163
Forrest7670152
Lauderdale7188241
Lowndes6387146
Lamar622486
Lafayette6184118
Washington5332133
Bolivar4801132
Oktibbeha462198
Panola4582106
Pearl River4506146
Marshall4435103
Warren4386121
Pontotoc420172
Monroe4107133
Union410076
Neshoba4030176
Lincoln3962110
Hancock378486
Leflore3493125
Sunflower335990
Tate333384
Pike3316105
Scott315773
Alcorn312768
Yazoo311469
Itawamba299777
Copiah296865
Coahoma295179
Simpson294988
Tippah288168
Prentiss279760
Adams278782
Marion269080
Leake267473
Wayne262641
Grenada261386
Covington258281
George247848
Newton246261
Winston227081
Tishomingo226667
Jasper221048
Attala214273
Chickasaw207757
Holmes188873
Clay185254
Stone182433
Tallahatchie178541
Clarke177980
Calhoun170532
Yalobusha164238
Smith162334
Walthall133945
Greene130533
Lawrence128524
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123042
Carroll121828
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107033
Tunica105226
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96533
Kemper95728
Franklin83623
Quitman80716
Choctaw76318
Wilkinson67230
Jefferson65528
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531404

Reported Deaths: 10985
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765501522
Mobile41036805
Madison34789503
Tuscaloosa25788453
Montgomery24340589
Shelby23449249
Baldwin21154308
Lee15882171
Calhoun14511314
Morgan14306279
Etowah13843353
Marshall12232223
Houston10570281
Elmore10068205
Limestone9974151
Cullman9676194
St. Clair9661243
Lauderdale9427241
DeKalb8831186
Talladega8227176
Walker7241277
Autauga6926108
Jackson6814112
Blount6678137
Colbert6306134
Coffee5519119
Dale4838111
Russell441538
Chilton4296112
Franklin426082
Covington4129118
Tallapoosa4023152
Escambia393677
Chambers3573123
Dallas3551152
Clarke351161
Marion3122101
Pike310977
Lawrence300398
Winston274473
Bibb260964
Geneva250477
Marengo249564
Pickens234461
Barbour231057
Hale223077
Butler216069
Fayette212562
Henry188844
Cherokee185245
Randolph180542
Monroe177540
Washington167339
Macon159650
Clay156756
Crenshaw152557
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107628
Sumter104732
Greene92534
Choctaw60724
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The sunshine becomes even more dominant as we roll into late-week. Temperatures will gradually climb as a result. But at night, low humidity and very little cloud coverage will make for some cool mornings.
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