NY Times, Wash. Post obscured Democratic support for minimum wage increase, uncritically repeated anti-wage increase argument

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & JOE BROWN

The New York Times and The Washington Post credited GOP "moderates" with forcing the Republican leadership to allow a vote on increasing the minumum wage, burying the fact that Democrats have been pushing for years to increase the minimum wage. The Times and the Post also uncritically repeated the argument, often put forth by opponents of a wage increase, that a higher minimum wage will result in job losses and discourage job creation.

In reporting on the House Republicans' move to allow a vote on legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage before Congress adjourns for the summer, The New York Times and The Washington Post credited GOP "moderates" with forcing the Republican leadership to allow the vote and buried the fact that Democrats have been pushing for years to increase the minimum wage. Also, the Times and the Post uncritically repeated the argument, often put forth by opponents of a wage increase, that a higher minimum wage will result in job losses and discourage job creation. Research has shown that increasing the minimum wage does not result in job loss or negatively affect employment.

On June 21, the GOP-controlled Senate defeated an amendment, proposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) to a defense bill, calling for a minimum-wage increase -- to $7.25 per hour from the current $5.15 per hour, where it has remained since 1997. No Democrats voted against the amendment (Kennedy's amendment was actually agreed to by the Senate in a 52-46 vote, but due to Senate procedural rules, the amendment was withdrawn when it did not receive the support of three-fifths of the Senate). CNN congressional producer Ted Barrett wrote in a June 28 article on CNN.com: "During the past nine years ... Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to increase the minimum wage."

But in his July 28 article, Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman credited "politically embattled [GOP] moderates" with forcing the Republican leadership's hand, writing:

House Republican leaders, bowing to pressure from their politically embattled moderates, agreed to seek a vote on raising the minimum wage, but House and Senate negotiations on a broad overhaul of the nation's private pension laws broke up last night in intraparty acrimony.

It was not until the ninth paragraph (out of 21) that Weisman acknowledged the strong support among Democrats for the minimum-wage increase: "Democrats and some Republicans have been pushing an increase from $5.15 an hour to $7.25, but most Republicans oppose it, as do small-business groups."

In his July 28 article, headlined "G.O.P. Nears Vote to Increase U.S. Wage," Times reporter Carl Hulse similarly credited the Republican "moderate wing" and quoted Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), noting that Boehlert "has been clamoring for a wage vote." Hulse wrote:

Under intense pressure from their moderate wing, House Republican leaders moved on Thursday toward allowing a vote Friday on an increase in the minimum wage before sending anxious lawmakers home for a month of campaigning in the battle for control of Congress.

House Republicans were still assembling a proposal Thursday night. But the momentum had clearly shifted in favor of considering an increase of at least $2 in the $5.15 an hour minimum wage, despite strong resistance from conservative Republicans and the party's allies in the business community.

''I have a high degree of confidence that we are going to have a package presented tomorrow,'' said Representative Sherwood Boehlert, Republican of New York and a centrist who has been clamoring for a wage vote, as he left a meeting on Thursday in the office of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

Mr. Boehlert and others have argued that Republican support for an increase in the federal wage is essential to shore up the party's strength among blue-collar and low-income workers who could decide critical House contests in the Northeast and Midwest.

However, it was not until the seventh paragraph (out of 14) that Hulse noted: "Democrats have been trying to highlight the issue for months, accusing Republicans of blocking an increase while allowing Congressional pay to rise steadily. And they warned that Republicans might try to tie the increase to an unacceptable piece of legislation on taxes or health care as a 'poison pill' to drive off Democrats and make certain the increase could not clear the Senate or become law."

Additionally, both Weisman and Hulse uncritically repeated the argument, advanced by Republicans and "small business groups," that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs. Weisman reported that "small business groups ... say such a hike [in the minimum wage] would throw many low-wage employees out of work."

Similarly, Hulse wrote:

Many House Republicans have for years opposed bringing a wage measure to the floor, saying it was not the government's role to set pay rates and that requiring a higher minimum wage would discourage employers from creating new jobs. They have been backed by lobbying groups like the National Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

In fact, a 1998 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study of the impact of the two most recent increases in the federal minimum wage found that the effect on employment was "economically small and statistically insignificant ... [and] almost as likely to be positive as negative." The study, which analyzed the effects of the October 1, 1996, minimum wage increase -- from $4.25 to $4.75 per hour -- and the September 1, 1997, minimum wage increase to $5.15 per hour, used "[f]our different tests of the two increases' employment impact -- applied to a large number of demographic groups whose wages are sensitive to the minimum wage" and "fail[ed] to find any systematic, significant job loss associated with the 1996-97 increases."

Additionally, as the weblog Think Progress noted in a July 24 entry, a 1995 study by Princeton University economists David Card and Alan B. Krueger found that increases in state and federal minimum wages led "to increases in pay, but no loss in jobs." Think Progress also noted that a report from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development found that the state's 2005 wage increase "produced $175 million in additional payroll and a $3 million boost in state tax revenue."

Posted In
Economy, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, The New York Times
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