Actions, or the lack thereof, speak louder than words. And we certainly hear a lot of words when it comes to wages in this country. The White House has been banging the drum loudly on raising the minimum wage for almost three years. State and local politicians have been calling for, and some have even enacted, $15/hour minimum wages for fast food workers. And there's generally a lot of talk from our politicians about how all those "greedy corporations" should raise pay for their workers across the board. Putting pressure on the private sector is a familiar government practice, whether it's big business or small business and every business in between.
But the message changes when it comes to the public sector. When it's the government that has to dig into its taxpayer cash to make payments, it's not always that generous... even with other peoples' money. To be fair, President Obama did unilaterally raise the minimum wage for individuals working on new federal contracts. But that only effected a small number of people. The White House and the rest of Washington or the state governments never seem to practice what they preach on wages on a large scale. They don't make the big moves that they could to create the positive economic impact they claim would result from the kind of wage increases they want from the private sector.
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Let's break out the calculator apps on our phones and examine this hypocrisy . Sure, there are about 3.5 million fast food workers in America, and the Democrats and the Left generally want those workers to get $15/hour. But there are about 1.7 million active duty soldiers and sailors in our military. Where's the call for the raise for them? Some of them don't make the equivalent of the $31,200 per year a person working a 40 hour work week at $15/hour would earn. And don't you think men and women who train for months and put their lives on the line for our country deserve at least as much as fast food workers?
Okay, maybe you agree but you're fixated on the fact that there are almost twice as many fast food workers than troops and you're all about economies of scale. In that case, let's think bigger. How about Social Security? The latest government figures tell us that there are 42.5 million living retired workers and their dependents currently receiving Social Security benefits. The average monthly benefit payment is $1,224, or about half the monthly pay of a fast food worker making $15/hour on that same 40 hour work week scale. Last I checked, 42.5 million > than 3.5 million, so I'm not sure why it's more important to boost the pay of a much smaller group. Even if you're talking about the 28 million American workers the White House says make minimum wage, that's still 33% fewer people spending all that added money you'd get if you raised Social Security benefits accordingly.
But that's not going to happen. We learned today that there will be no Social Security cost of living increase in 2016. It's the third time there's been a 0% increase since President Obama took office. Of course the White House will explain that it has no control over Social Security COLA's because they're determined by a a convenient inflation-based recipe in place mostly as is since 1975. And that claim would be true. But we're also not hearing the Obama administration angrily denigrating that recipe or doing anything to change it like it attacks and tries to change the payroll policies in the private sector. After all, wouldn't the White House have a better argument to make about how American workers need more pay to cope with rising costs if it wasn't relatively silent about the inflation hurting the tens of millions of people on Social Security?
Well, maybe the Obama team and its allies on this issue are simply focused on younger Americans and believe in their ability to stimulate the overall economy more effectively. But here's a question: does poverty have an age limit? When elderly people buy food with Social Security checks does it feed them or help the economy less than when younger people pay with food stamps? Does inflation have an age limit? Or do the rising health care costs the administration points out all the time somehow affect elderly people less than younger folks? Wait, maybe the White House is passive on Social Security because according to Gallup, elderly people have gone from being reliably Democratic voters to reliably Republican over the past two decades. No, that couldn't be it. Could it?
Okay, I'll admit that last paragraph was just facetious. It was a rhetorical tool I used to make it as clear as possible that when this administration or just about any administration push economic policies, it's about the politics not the economics. If the Obama administration and the Democrats want minimum wages hiked, it's because they believe it will help their case among its loyal voters and potential swing voters the most. The Republicans would and have done the same thing. There really should be a rule about muting elected officials when they talk about economic policy.
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So where does that leave the rest of us when we want to talk about what works and doesn't work to boost our economy? We can stick to some of the numbers listed above. No one can deny 42.5 million is a bigger number than 28 million or 3.5 million. So if you're a non-partisan Keynesian type, you should be pushing for Social Security hikes much more than minimum wage increases. If you're more concerned with rewarding harder and more dangerous work with higher pay, then you should support wage increases for the troops more than you want a $15/hour minimum wage for everyone at McDonald's. If you think young people who are still working need more of our support than elderly folks who had the opportunity to save all their working lives, then you should also be for pay raises for the predominantly young people who serve in the military. Or at the very least, if you do support pay raises in general then you should be in favor of increases no matter whether they're paid for or administered by the private or public sector.
But good luck finding even a non-elected civilian who won't be filled with inconsistencies, hypocrisy, and partisanship when it comes to what they say or believe about wages. Politics will almost always creep in because money isn't just the mother's milk of politics as Tip O'Neill famously said. Actually, it's a co-dependency that never goes away from cradle to grave.