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On the Wire
Minimum Wage Policy of the Democratic Party
By Steve Hoenisch
Last updated on July 29, 2004
Copyright 1996-2008 www.Criticism.Com
This essay appears in The Encyclopedia of the American Democratic and Republican Parties, published by the International Encyclopedia Society. The encyclopedia won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1997.
2 Proponents and Opponents
4.1 Democratic Party
4.2 Republican Party
5 Bestselling Books on Democratic Party
In 1938, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the minimum wage as part of his New Deal with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Since then, Congress has significantly revised and expanded its terms, relying on not only general bipartisan backing but also loyal support from elected members of the Democratic Party.
Despite frequent bipartisan backing, Democrats have found themselves fighting for increases in the minimum wage over objections from conservative Republicans, free market libertarians, and business groups, who argue that a higher wage will raise unemployment and inflate prices, actually hurting the people that proponents say would be helped. Opponents of increasing the minimum wage also say it would drive up all wages. Many conservative Republican members of Congress favor a policy of letting the free market establish wages, and some maintain there should be no minimum wage at all.
Most Democrats reject this reasoning. They maintain that raising the minimum wage does not result in higher unemployment or inflation. Neither does it push up all wages, they say. In fact, the Democrats point out, a recent increase in California's minimum wage actually led to less unemployment. Democrats also argue that every worker has the right to earn a subsistence wage. President Bill Clinton has led the Democrats' drive during the mid 1990s to raise the minimum wage. He proposed that it be raised by 90 cents over 2 years, from its current $4.25 an hour to $5.15 an hour.
Principal Democratic sponsors of minimum wage legislation in Congress have included Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who is on the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, and Representative Augustus Hawkins, a California Democrat on the House Committee on Education and Labor. Senator Kennedy, in particular, has long fought to increase the minimum wage. He and his fellow Democrats argue that inflation has undermined the purchasing power of the minimum wage and that many entry-level workers will be condemned to a less-than-subsistence wage unless the minimum is expanded.
Kennedy and Hawkins' chief opponents in the battle over raising the minimum wage have been Senator Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican from Utah who sits on the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, and Representative Steve Bartlett, a Texas Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Representative Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, has taken President Clinton's proposal even further. He introduced a measure that would not only raise the rate by more than the President's proposal, but also limit the tax deductibility of executive compensation at 25 times that of the company's lowest-paid employee.
"An honest day's pay?" The Economist, September 3, 1988.
Du Pont, Pete. "Pay hazard." National Review, May 1, 1995.
McClenahen, John S. "Take a hike; a rise in the minimum wage is unlikely in 1995." Industry Week, March 6, 1995.
Mencimer, Stephanie. "Take a hike: the minimum wage and welfare reform." The New Republic, May 23, 1994.
"Wages of politics." The Economist, March 18, 1989.
See The Nation magazine for clear-headed political commentary on current affairs and policy.