Don’t believe what Donald Trump says: He won’t raise minimum wage

It's no secret that raising the minimum wage is a policy that's widely popular with Democratic and Republican voters alike. Even a large majority of businesses support raising the minimum wage, contrary to what business lobbyists like the Chamber of Commerce peddle in the halls of Congress.

That's because Americans understand it's not right when people put in long hours at work, sometimes at two or more jobs, but still can barely afford to get by. The public also doesn't fall for the myth of job loss that's always prophesied by big business lobbyists but that never comes true when the minimum wage goes up.

Faced with the reality of popular opinion, real-world economics, and sheer human decency, what are GOP politicians opposed to raising the federal minimum wage to do? They trot out one of their "greatest hits" talking points, of course—that this should be a matter for the states to decide. And look, they say, the states are taking care of it, pointing to successful campaigns in places like New York, California, and Oregon.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally May 5, 2016 in Charleston, West Virginia.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally May 5, 2016 in Charleston, West Virginia.

Clearly, Donald Trump, who is taking the political practice of "evolving" on popular issues to a new extreme, got the memo about how to talk about the minimum wage. In November 2015, at a GOP primary debate, he said he did not support raising the minimum wage because "wages are too high."

Last week, as he began shifting his campaign toward the general election, he said that he was "open to doing something" about raising the minimum wage. But over the weekend, he pivoted yet again, joining the ever-growing GOP chorus calling for the end of the federal minimum wage with his recommendation to "let the states decide." On Wednesday, in a tweet that will make you scratch your head, he said:

Of course, no one ever really knows what Trump-Speak means, but if someone says—repeatedly—that minimum wage decisions should be left to the states, it's hardly a large leap of logic to conclude that the Trump-Speaker thinks there should be no federal minimum wage. So once you recover from the whiplash caused by Mr. Trump's "evolution," it's time to consider the implications of what leaving it to the states would do. What's being disguised as an alternate way to raise pay isn't an alternate at all—it's a cop-out.

First, while some states are doing right by working men and women in lower-wage jobs, far too many are not (and won't be doing so any time soon). Twenty-one states, including ones like Georgia, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin with major metropolitan areas and high costs of living, have minimum wages frozen at $7.25 per hour, and there is no realistic chance that any of them will raise their state minimum wage either by legislation or ballot initiative.

For the 15 million low-wage workers in those states who would benefit from the Raise the Wage Act, the only hope for upward pressure on wages is through an increase in the federal minimum wage. And let's not forget that even in the states that have raised their minimum wage, there's usually been strong and lock-step GOP opposition, so the promise of these 21 states taking care of things isn't really much of a promise at all.

Second, the party that loves to espouse local control when it doesn't want Congress to act is now trying to thwart local control when cities take the initiative and try to raise the minimum wage. Nineteen states expressly pre-empt their cities and localities from raising the minimum wage within their boundaries, and more are rushing to join this group.

The GOP-controlled Alabama legislature recently overturned the will of the democratically elected members of the Birmingham city council when it blocked Birmingham's enactment of a $10.10 minimum wage, and further pre-empted any other cities in the state from raising their minimum wages. Missouri recently enacted a pre-emption bill, Arizona is also trying to pre-empt its cities from doing the same, and North Carolina snuck pre-emption into its hastily passed and controversial "bathroom bill."

Third, let's consider what it means to abolish the federal minimum wage. As it stands now, five states don't even have a minimum wage, and 16 explicitly peg theirs to the federal minimum wage. What happens if that federal wage floor disappears? Should low-wage workers trust state lawmakers to do the right thing when they've been so hostile to the minimum wage that they can't even be bothered to legislate it? Or will these officials allow corporations that boost profits by squeezing worker pay down to the last drop to race as far to the bottom as the vaunted "free market" will let them? Sadly, the answers are obvious.

Mr. Trump may try to tell you that he cares about raising wages for those struggling to get by, but don't fall for it, not even for a New York minute. Only a robust increase in the federal minimum wage, phased in over an appropriate amount of time, will ensure that low-wage workers will have a fighting chance to get a fair day's pay for a full day's work throughout the entire country.

So, if you are one of the vast majority of Americans who support a raise to the minimum wage, remember this when you go to the polls this year: any politician, whether it's Mr. Trump or any candidate for elected office, who tries to convince you he or she cares about raising wages for those struggling to get by—but doesn't support a substantial increase in the federal minimum wage—is flat-out lying to you.

Commentary by Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.

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