The ‘Politically Divisive’ Minimum Wage

Chicago-Raise-the-Min-Wage-RallyBarack Obama’s State of the Union call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour could be called a lot of things: a nonstarter, given the Republican opposition; a step backwards, since he wanted to raise it to $9.50 in 2008; or a modest step in the right direction.

The point is that what we call things matters, which occurred to me as I read this piece in the New York Times this morning (2/13/13):

The proposal directly addresses the country’s yawning levels of income inequality, which the White House has tried to reduce with targeted tax credits, a major expansion of health insurance, education and other proposals. But it is sure to be politically divisive, especially given the weakness of the recovery and the continued high levels of joblessness.

It’s important to step back and figure out what “divisive” means here. As Annie Lowrey reports, Republicans and corporate interests are opposed to this idea, and there is some research that suggests that raising the wage floor might hurt more than it helps (as well as research that says the opposite; I guess we call it a tie?).

But what do the American people say about this idea? They overwhelmingly support the concept of paying people at the bottom of the wage scale more–some 70 percent, according to one survey.

We went through something like this with the debate over the healthcare “public option,” which media treated as a similar kind of “risk,” cheering the “pragmatism” of politicians who worked against the wishes of the majority of the public.

It would be more sensible to talk about how risky and divisive it is for politicians to oppose raising the minimum wage–a policy that’s causing direct hardship to millions, and is not even popular in the abstract among the greater population. But that’s almost unthinkable in corporate media.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.