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The Wisconsin State Journal Chris Rickert column [The Wisconsin State Journal :: ]
[February 09, 2014]

The Wisconsin State Journal Chris Rickert column [The Wisconsin State Journal :: ]

(Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 09--In his State of the Union speech last month, President Barack Obama called for gradually raising the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage to $10.10, and recent national polls have found healthy majorities of Americans generally support the idea.

It's almost like the country is taking its cues from leftist outliers Madison and Dane County, which have long had "living wages" for contractors well above the minimum wage.

And wouldn't it be a hoot if Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke -- who's already getting pilloried by Gov. Scott Walker's forces as an out-of-touch Madison liberal -- wins in November by acting like an out-of-touch Madison liberal on the minimum wage? Burke initially voiced support for a much smaller hike in Wisconsin's $7.25 minimum wage, but later backed the $10.10 plan. Walker has characterized her stance as a gimmick and a job killer.

Such an increase "will result in significant Wisconsin job losses," agreed Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce vice president Scott Manley. He cited research by the Employment Policies Institute, which claims 9,312 to 27,937 jobs would be lost if the state's minimum wage were increased to $10.10.

Or it could be that an increase would have relatively little effect on Wisconsin's economy and job creation -- and it could easily be more positive than negative.

Recent research suggests "increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers" and "could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth," reads a letter to the president and Congressional leaders arranged by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

The Employment Policies Institute doesn't list its board members on its website, and the nonpartisan Charity Navigator has raised questions about its links to a public relations firm with clients in the retail and food industries.

By contrast, the Economic Policy Institute's letter is signed by 600-plus economists and other academics, including eight working for the University of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, there seems to be little correlation between a state's minimum wage and its job growth.

Wisconsin's minimum wage is the same as the federal. It's one of 29 states at or below the federal minimum, but it also has ranked low in job creation during Walker's term. And the governor is far from meeting his campaign promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs by 2015.

Tim Smeeding, director of the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty and one of the Economic Policy Institute letter's signatories, said before the Great Recession, most people earning the minimum wage were likely middle-class teenagers.

Upticks in the number of low-wage, part-time jobs and people getting food stamps since the recession ended, plus the difficulty teens have finding work these days, provides "circumstantial evidence" that minimum wage earners are increasingly poor adults, said Smeeding.

Minimum wage increases always cost some jobs, he said, and he doesn't endorse going much above $10. A phased increase to $10.10 would "probably have more benefits than costs," he said.

But less important than any realities found in conflicting research is having the public on your side.

Some 62 percent of Wisconsin voters polled recently said they favor a raise in the minimum wage; 33 percent endorse $9 an hour and 25 percent favor $10 an hour.

"It is clearly ... an area in which the public on balance agrees with the Democratic position," said the poll's director, Marquette University professor Charles Franklin. "So, in that case, it's a winner." With the same poll showing Walker with a 6-point lead over Burke, Burke could use a winner.

On Thursday, Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki promised Burke would campaign on the minimum wage issue, calling it "a clear difference between Mary and Walker" that will improve the economy.

Morally, increasing the minimum wage is a no-brainer. There's no reason some should work hard and lack the money to feed themselves while others should work hard and have the money to feed a city.

Rationally, increasing the minimum wage is unlikely to do much harm -- and it might do a bit of good.

People aren't moral or rational animals, though. They're political ones. And if Burke can turn public support for a minimum wage increase into votes, Walker could find himself out of a job come Nov. 5.

Besides, it should be easy enough to deflect Walker's criticisms of a higher minimum wage. All she need say is it can't be much worse for the economy than the policies of the past three years.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

___ (c)2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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