Losing Minimum Wage Debate, Fox News Flips The Script

New Spin: Who Cares? Hardly Anyone Makes $7.25 An Hour

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Fox News viewers have been lectured for years about the looming evils of raising the minimum wage, and how an economic boost for those making the least in America would torpedo the U.S. economy. For those loyalists, these must be confusing times as the latest right-wing media spin on the pay topic has taken a dramatic turn.  

With polls showing the vast majority of Americans supporting a boost (including strong support among conservatives), and as state after state implements their own minimum wage increase while President Obama pushes Congress to the same nationally, conservative voices have suddenly adopted a completely new talking point on the topic. And it's this: What's the big deal, hardly anyone would benefit from a minimum wage boost. 

That spin isn't accurate (more on that below), but more importantly the about-face thoroughly undercuts what had been a cornerstone conservative claim about the minimum wage and what the dire, far-reaching effects of raising it would be. The new, so-what spin also torpedoes the continued opposition. Because if hardly anyone makes minimum wage, than why the movement-wide opposition to changing it? If so few people earn minimum wage, why demagogue the issue and stand in the way of an increase?

This is what happens when public sentiment bypasses the conservative agenda. Isolated and outnumbered media supporters remain firmly opposed to the initiative, but they're forced to come up with new reasons to explain why. Clearly, the overwhelming public support for raising the minimum wage indicates that the longtime, far-right mantra about how doing so would wreck the economy and kill millions of jobs does not resonate with voters.

So it's time for Plan B.  

The minimum wage "doesn't affect a lot of American workers," insisted Karl Rove during a Fox News appearance in January. "Only about one percent of Americans make the minimum wage," stressed Jonah Goldberg on Fox this month and who dismissed Obama's support as "theatrics."

And it's not just Fox pundits hitting that new note. The Blaze's Stu Burguiere mocked the call for a boosting the working wage this way: "Let's say 100 fries represent the workforce in America.  How many of them actually make the minimum wage? One. Just one."

Following Obama's recent support for a $10.10 minimum wage, conservatives have rushed in to stress how few people earn minimum wage, and presented the fact as a definitive myth-buster to undercut the president:  

Myth #1: Hordes of Minimum-Wage Workers

Very few Americans are actually working for the federal minimum wage--it's just 2.9 percent of all workers in the United States.

But again, if the pool of affected workers is supposedly so small, why the continued, unyielding right-wing media opposition? It doesn't make any sense. If anything, the new Fox talking point is an argument in favor of boosting the bottom wage.

And based on recent polling, voters don't need any more incentive to support the issue.

During his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to raise the minimum wage. In response, a Gallup poll found that seven in ten Americans would vote for that proposal, including seven out of ten independent voters, as well as 54 percent of self-identified "conservatives."

More recently, Obama came out in favor of an increase to $10.10 an hour. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in December revealed that two in three Americans favor lifting the minimum wage, with the average suggested wage being $9.41 an hour. Once again, a majority of Republicans in the poll supported the worker initiative.

While Republicans in Congress refuse to act, the deep and wide support for raising the minimum wage is being implemented on the state level, where the wage push continues to gain momentum.

Just last week the House of Delegates in the conservative state of West Virginia gave overwhelming approval to a bill that would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75. (The vote was 89-5.) The state is now on course to join more than 20 other states that have already moved to increase the minimum wage, or will soon do so. The states are as politically diverse as Vermont and Montana, Connecticut and Arizona. The issue is so popular Democrats are hoping minimum wage ballot initiatives this year will drive up voter turnout in key states.

As for the claim that upping the lowest earning rate to $10.10 wouldn't make much of a difference because so few workers currently earn $7.25, two points. First, the number of Americans earning minimum wage has ballooned over the last decade. In 2007, just prior to the U.S. economy's deep recession, there were 267,000 making the minimum wage, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2012, the latest dates for which numbers are available, that figured had climbed to 1.5 million.

But more importantly, an increase to $10.10, for instance, wouldn't simply affect those 1.5 million workers. It would raise the income for millions of additional workers whose hourly salary might be slightly above the minimum wage today.

As Pew Research noted:

Nearly 21.3 million U.S. workers (or 16.4% of the workforce) would be directly affected by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by July 2015, as the Senate bill referred to above seeks to do, according to analysis of microdata from the Current Population Survey by the Economic Policy Institute.

And a Congressional Budget Office report issued this week confirmed the "ripple effect" from upping the minimum wage would be widespread. It estimated 16.5 million workers would benefit if the wage were increased.

After sounding the alarm about the sweeping and dire negative impact of raising the minimum wage, Fox News and conservative pundits now insist the whole issue is moot because so few workers would profit from a boost. Neither claim withstands scrutiny.

Do they have a Plan C?  

Eric Boehlert
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