I was listening to a story last night about efforts to raise the minimum wage. It caught my attention because, earlier in the day, I had read an interesting article about the fact that cities and states that have raised their minimum wage significantly above the federal standard have, so far, suffered no decline in employment; in fact, just the opposite is true. Apparently, when the working poor have money to spend businesses actually have to hire more people to keep up. Now, the story noted that it was still too early to draw conclusions, but, thus far, 100 percent of the empirical evidence shows that recent increases in the minimum wage have led to a net gain in employment.
Ironically, the radio story featured people fretting about how increasing unemployment inevitably would lead to dire consequences. It wasn’t until after the story was finished that I realized the people who had said that were all owners or managers in former Confederate states. That sample was way too small to draw any conclusions; however, I have lived my entire life in the South and feel pretty qualified to wonder why white southerners are so opposed to unions, minimum wage increases, affirmative action, and almost anything else that might help the working poor get ahead in life.
Not surprisingly, my conclusion is it is the enduring legacy of racism stoked by Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and Ronald Reagan’s thinly-veiled, racially-charged “welfare queen.” Of course, the tragedy is that social services like food stamps, welfare, and other government support go disproportionately to red states and to the white citizens in those states, but facts don’t seem to matter much when it comes to voting against your own self-interest.
I wonder how long Americans will continue to support a system that rewards fewer and fewer, and victimizes more and more. I’m not talking about giving handouts to the lazy, but what on earth is un-Christian or un-American about giving a greater share to the working poor? That should be a cause we all could get behind. The average person being paid minimum wage is not a teenager, but a 30-something-year-old parent who is WORKING. The Bible says, “A worker is worthy of their wages,” and that’s a cause we all should care about.
Rev. Michael Piazza