Right-wing media dismiss benefits of raising minimum wage and fearmonger about potential job loss

Following a proposal by Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, conservative media downplayed the predicted 900,000 people who would be lifted out of poverty and the 17 million who would see their pay increased as a result of the bill -- instead aggressively focusing on potential job loss. Right-wing media figures have consistently overlooked the needs of millions of workers to instead argue that a $15 an hour minimum wage is “the last thing our country needs right now,” claiming the potential for job loss is “not a good trade-off” and that the increase is a “slap in the face” to small businesses, while ignoring the measure’s potential significance to those in poverty.

Democrats introduce measure to raise federal minimum wage to $15 an hour 

Democrats introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage. In January 2021, a “coalition of lawmakers” introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The measure is also included in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package, which would raise the minimum wage gradually until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025. The push to increase the federal minimum wage, also called the “Fight for $15,” started in 2012 when fast food workers walked out in New York City in protest of low wages. Federally, the minimum wage has not increased since 2009. [CNN, 1/26/21]

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the increase would lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty and increase pay for 27 million low-wage workers, with a potential to reduce employment by 1.4 million jobs at the same time. According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, increasing the minimum wage to $15 would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, give 17 million people who were previously earning less than that a raise, and increase the pay of 10 million people earning just over $15 an hour. The analysis also predicts there is a chance the increase could reduce employment by 1.4 million jobs and increase the deficit by $54 billion. [Congressional Budget Office, February 2021]   

Other experts have also suggested claims of mass job loss and detrimental effects to small businesses are not supported by evidence

Center for Economic and Policy Research senior economist Dean Baker: “The standard argument against raising the minimum wage” — that it will lead to huge job losses — “is not supported by the evidence.” In a February 4 article, Baker pointed out that several cities have already mandated a $15 an hour minimum wage and “to the surprise of many, including me, there is no evidence that these minimum wage increases have led to job loss. Instead, they have resulted in substantial improvements in living standards for millions of low-wage workers.” He went on to clarify that while “one business is cutting back employment or shutting its doors because of a minimum wage hike, another is opening or expanding employment. Economists have looked hard for evidence of job loss from these minimum wage hikes and have generally been unable to find it.” [Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2/4/21]

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: The effect of minimum wage increases on job loss is “sometimes even positive.” In a 2018 fact sheet on a minimum wage increase, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that historically, the impact of minimum wage increases on job loss have been “slightly negative, negligible, or sometimes even positive.” The fact sheet also clarifies that the CBO has previously estimated that “low-wage workers as a group gain more income from the higher wage than they lose from reduced employment.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 12/19/18

The Economic Policy Institute estimates raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 “would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers across the country.” According to an EPI study, 32 million workers -- or 21% of the workforce -- would see a raise if the minimum wage was increased to $15 an hour. The study also suggests that the increase “would provide an additional $107 billion in wages for the country’s lowest-paid workers,” the average of whom would see an additional $3,300 a year. [Economic Policy Institute, 1/28/21]  

EPI: Passing the 2021 Raise the Wage Act would decrease government spending on public assistance programs by up to $31 billion. In a February 2021 study, the EPI estimated that government spending on public assistance would fall by between $13.4 billion and $31 billion as a result of raising the minimum wage. Specifically, earned-income tax credit and child tax credit expenditures would fall by up to $20.7 billion annually and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) expenditures would fall by up to $5.4 billion annually. [Economic Policy Institute, 2/2/21]   

EPI: A growing number of small businesses support an increase in minimum wage. According to the EPI, organizations representing “thousands” of small businesses, including Business for a Fair Minimum Wage and the American Sustainable Business Council, have endorsed a $15 an hour minimum wage. [Economic Policy Institute, 1/26/21]

Survey suggests small businesses will not be “crushed” by $15 an hour. According to a CNBC survey conducted in the first quarter of 2020, 57% of small businesses said a federal minimum wage increase would have “no impact at all” on their businesses. Only 8% of respondents said they’d have to lay off workers as a result, while 14% said they would be forced to cut work hours. [CNBC, 2/20/20]

Conservative media continue to fixate on potential job loss and fearmonger that raising the minimum wage would hurt people “at the very bottom”

Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn: The people who will be laid off are “at the very bottom.” During the February 16 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bill McGurn claimed the proponents of increasing the minimum wage don’t realize that the “people who are liable to be laid off — the CBO says that the $15 an hour proposal they’re considering now would lose 1.4 million jobs; they’re at the very bottom. They’re the most vulnerable workers.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/16/21]

Daily Caller’s Neil Patel: It’s much easier to apply a “livable wage” to Walmart than to a corner deli. The Daily Caller’s Neil Patel told Fox’s Tucker Carlson that it does not make sense to apply the same minimum wage requirements to multinational corporations and small businesses. During the February 10 edition of his Fox News show, Carlson questioned whether the push for $15 an hour could have “something to do with who donates to which political party,” going on to suggest that “big businesses would actually be in favor of a higher minimum wage if they thought it would drive their competitors out of business.” Patel agreed, calling a federal minimum wage increase “the last thing small businesses need; it’s the last thing our country needs.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/10/21]   

Fox’s Karl Rove: “Let’s make it more difficult for people to get a start in life; let’s do that.” During the February 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Karl Rove claimed increasing the minimum wage would “make it more difficult for people to get a start in life” because any job loss would be concentrated among younger, less educated people. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/9/21]

Fox guest Alexandria Wilkes: “This is such a slap in the face to small businesses, raising the minimum wage like this.” Republican strategist and Fox News guest Alexandria Wilkes called raising the minimum wage “a slap in the face to small businesses” during the February 8 edition of Fox News’ Your World. Wilkes went on to say the “increasing automation” in businesses is proof they’re already suffering and a “$15 minimum wage hike is only going to push them over the edge.” [Fox News, Your World, 2/8/21

Washington Examiner contributor Brad Polumbo: Raising the minimum wage “is not a good trade off.” During the February 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends Saturday, Washington Examiner contributor Brad Polumbo called raising the minimum wage a “feel-good policy, not sound economics” because “consistent job losses” would be among women, minorities, and teenagers. After co-host Jedidiah Bila asked Polumbo to comment on the number of people who may be lifted out of poverty, he said that “it’s not a good trade-off to lose 1.4 million jobs for 900,000 people seeing a rise in income.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Saturday, 2/13/21]   

Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “I just think people should fall in love with the free market again.” During the February 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said while $15 an hour may be great for bartenders, the result will be less bartenders because businesses can’t absorb the cost. Kilmeade went on to say people should “fall in love with the free market again” and that if “you are in a state that’s not paying the wage that you want or the opportunities that you need, you can leave. That’s the way our country used to work.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/9/21]  

Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo: “When you force businesses to accept a higher wage, businesses have to make a decision: What am I going to cut?” During the February 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo said businesses will inevitably have to decide what they’re “going to cut” as a result of having to pay higher wages. She went on to say it is a “job killer to think that every state should have the same exact higher minimum wage.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/9/21]

The Five’s Jesse Waters: “Job-killing Joe Biden’s agenda could put a lot more Americans out of work.” The Five co-host Jesse Waters introduced the push for $15 an hour minimum wage as part of “job-killing Joe Biden’s agenda,” before suggesting it sounds like “really bad economics” due to the potential job loss number. In the same February 9 segment, co-host Dana Perino said companies like Amazon have “already gobbled up the mom and pops of this country,” and the remaining small businesses won’t be able to survive if they have to pay $15 an hour. [Fox News, The Five, 2/9/21]    

Breitbart: Potential unemployment numbers “undercut” the argument for increased minimum wage. In a February 8 article about the CBO analysis, Breitbart concluded that the potential job loss numbers and addition to the deficit as a result of the increase “undercut” any argument for raising the minimum wage. The article made no mention of the number of people who would be lifted out of poverty or see a raise as a result of a $15 minimum wage. [Breitbart.com, 2/8/21]