Nick Hanauer, a Seattle-based entrepreneur and venture capitalist, says we ought to be shooting for $15 an hour. “It would stimulate the economy, narrow the gap between rich and poor, and end the ridiculous subsidization of private low-wage companies by taxpayers,” he says.
“Part of the answer,” says Gray Davis, the former governor of California who is thoughtful on these questions, “will be convincing people to pay a little bit more for things so that Americans can have jobs that pay a decent wage.”
There are different ways to skin this cat. In my 2003 book, The Two Percent Solution, I argued that the minimum reward for work in America should be $10 an hour plus health coverage. That would be $12.50 today. Whether we pick $12, $15 or some other number, the question is how best to share the cost of achieving this decent minimum among employers, taxpayers (via subsidies for low-wage work) and consumers (via slightly higher prices).
A rational political process would debate the pros and cons of different combinations of these options. We don’t have a rational political process. But we can’t continue to do nothing.
Yes, we’ll need exemptions to the new minimum for young trainees, restaurant workers and some others. And to be fair to the president, his first term involved so much crisis management that putting off this fight was arguably defensible.
But no more. Obama should call for a serious minimum wage hike in his State of the Union address next week. And Republicans embracing Cantor’s call to “make life work for more working people” should read the Unz paper (as well as the polls) to see why this is something Washington can agree on to improve the lives of millions of struggling families.
Matt Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-host of public radio’s “Left, Right & Center,” writes a weekly online column for The Washington Post.