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Monday, December 5, 2016

Since the Congressional Budget Office projected on Tuesday that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would “reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers,” Republicans across the country have gleefully cited the CBO’s report as evidence that the policy would be a job killer.

“This report confirms what we’ve long known: While helping some, mandating higher wages has real costs, including fewer people working,” a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said.

“Today the non-partisan CBO spelled out some of the dire consequences of Alison Lundergan Grimes’ blind allegiance to Barack Obama’s agenda,” Mitch McConnell’s campaign said in a statement. “Just like with Obamacare, Alison Lundergan Grimes and the Obama-liberals promise a world full of prosperity, but the reality of their policies is fewer jobs and less opportunity for our most vulnerable.”

So would the Harkin-Miller bill currently being mulled by Congress — which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016, then tie it to the Consumer Price Index thereafter — be a job-killing disaster? Not exactly. Once again, Republicans are grabbing on to a favorable headline in a CBO report, while deliberately failing to see the forest for the trees.

First, the CBO does not flatly claim that raising the minimum wage will kill 500,000 jobs. Rather, it projects that a $10.10 minimum wage would contract employment by somewhere between a “very slight decrease” and 1 million workers — 500,000 is the CBO’s best guess on where the total number of job losses will fall, but many economists disagree. For example, over 600 economists — including seven Nobel laureates and eight former presidents of the American Economic Association — have signed an open letter urging Congress to raise the minimum wage, and noting that “the weight of evidence now [shows] that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

Even if raising the minimum wage did cost the economy 500,000 jobs, however, the benefits would still outweigh the costs. For example, according to the CBO, raising the minimum wage would directly lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

Additionally, 16.5 million workers would see their hourly wages increased as a result of a $10.10 per hour minimum wage. Another 8 million workers who currently earn just above $10.10 per hour could also see their wages rise as a result of a hike.

CBO Chart

So while Republicans will focus on the roughly 0.3 percent of the workforce that could lose their minimum-wage jobs as a result of a raise, expect Democrats and other living-wage advocates to point out that roughly 98 percent of workers who will be affected by an increase will benefit.

Even with their negative interpretation of the CBO report, Republicans are fighting an uphill battle against a minimum-wage increase. Polls have repeatedly found that voters reject the GOP’s position on the issue.

Chart: CBO via The Washington Post

Photo: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

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