News & Commentary

November 16, 2015

Employment policy had a moment this weekend as presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton, and Martin O’ Malley answered questions about what they’d do about stagnating wages at the second Democratic debate in Iowa.

While all of the candidates agreed that they would raise the national minimum wage, they sparred over what would be the perfectly progressive dollar amount.  Sanders, who has advocated for raising the minimum wage to $15, took the first bite at the apple as he fielded a question about whether his proposal might lead to “undesirable and unintended consequences like job loss.”  After noting that wages, accounting for real inflation, have “declined precipitously,” Sanders responded by underscoring the need to ensure that a 40-hour workweek is enough for a living wage, “[i]t is not a radical idea to say that if somebody works 40 hours a week that person should not be living in poverty.

O’ Malley, who also advocated for the $15, chimed in by noting that “nobody headed for the hills or left the state” when Maryland raised the minimum wage during his tenure to $10.10.  For him, it seems, $15 is the “right” amount because encouraging disposable income will lead to a stronger middle class: “if our middle class makes more money, they spend more money. And our whole economy grows.”

For her part, Clinton adhered to the more conservative position of raising the minimum wage to just $12 an hour.  To do otherwise, she argued, would be risky given that there is no “international comparison” to measure the tradeoffs associated with a hike to $15.  “I think that [$12 an hour] is the smartest way to be able to move forward.”  Raising the floor to $12, she added, would already “be the highest historical average we’ve ever had.”

By comparison, the GOP candidates made it clear at last week’s Republic presidential debate that they unanimously oppose raising the minimum wage, reports CNN Politics.  As front runner Donald Trump put it, wages are simply “too high.”  And for him, wages take a back seat to pushing American forward in the world economy: “[w]hether its taxes or wages, if they’re too high we’re not going to be able to compete with other countries.”

You can read the full transcript of the Democratic debate, here, made available by CBS News.

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