Two Sides of the Debate About Raising the Minimum Wage

Written by Kira Buttrey and Dr. Amy Glasmeier on 07/19/2019

Twenty Democrats took the stage in Miami, Florida on June 26th and 27th for the first round of 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Debates. All but Andrew Yang support a $15 federal minimum wage, although few mentioned a living wage. The candidates' websites showcase their economic policies, which would affect whether this new minimum wage could mean a living wage for many Americans.

In the first debate, Cory Booker was the first to discuss the need for a living wage. According to Booker, "dignity is being stripped away from labor, and we have people who work full-time jobs and still can't make a living wage" (1). Kamala Harris added, "no one should have to work more than one job to have a roof over their head and food on the table" (2). Other candidates argued the middle class is on the decline and economic vulnerability is increasing. John Delaney brought up living wages explicitly, stating there is a need to raise the minimum wage while doubling the earned income tax credit and providing paid family leave. Delaney said, "That will create a situation where people have a living wage" (1). Bill de Blasio highlighted that he alone had implemented a $ 15.00-hour wage as Mayor of New York City without mentioning the extremely high cost of living there (1).

In contrast to these five, Andrew Yang favors a Universal Basic Income (UBI) over a $15 minimum wage. His signature plan involves giving every American adult $1,000 per month, "no questions asked" (10). According to his website, this will be funded by "consolidating some welfare programs and implementing a Value-Added Tax (VAT) of 10%." While a UBI would by no means provide a living wage in and of itself, still such a transfer program would help struggling families get by while putting money into local economies. He may not be in the running for much longer, but his presence in this first round of debates did introduce many Americans to this alternative economic policy.

While no one plan can guarantee living wages for all working Americans, the Democratic candidates have more policies supporting a living wage than President Donald Trump. According to the GOP website, the Republican stance on the minimum wage is "states and localities should decide" (11). The American Enterprise Institute (AIE), a conservative think tank, agrees that "earnings vary greatly geographically and from urban areas to non-urban." AIE warns against raising the federal minimum wage because of "possible adverse effects" such as employers hiring fewer people, making their employees work harder, or cutting worker hours (12). Trump's 2020 presidential campaign website offers no indication of a stance on the minimum wage, and his remarks on the topic over the past few years vary wildly. Looking back to the Republican debate in November of 2015, President Trump said he would not raise the minimum wage, indicating "wages [are] too high" (13). With few counties in America offering a minimum wage high enough to live on, it's clear that this is not the case.
(1) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/26/us/politics/democratic-debate-transcript.html
(2) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/28/us/politics/transcript-debate.html
(3) https://peteforamerica.com/issues/
(4) https://medium.com/@teamwarren/my-plan-for-universal-child-care-762535e6c20a
(5) https://kamalaharris.org/issue/economic-justice/
(6) https://www.epi.org/child-care-costs-in-the-united-states/
(7) https://joebiden.com/education/
(8) https://berniesanders.com/issues/fight-for-working-families/
(9) https://elizabethwarren.com/issues#rebuild-the-middle-class
(10) https://www.yang2020.com/what-is-ubi/
(11) https://gop.com/platform/restoring-the-american-dream/
(12) http://www.aei.org/publication/adverse-effects-of-the-minimum-wage-even-if-workers-keep-their-jobs/
(13) https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/us/politics/transcript-republican-presidential-debate.html