Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) told the National Journal that he thinks the country should get rid of the minimum wage. “I think it’s outlived its usefulness,” he said. “It may have been of some value back in the Great Depression. I would vote to repeal the minimum wage.”
Barton’s not the only lawmaker to hold such a view. In June, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told a meeting of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee to mark 75 years since the signing of the Federal Labor Standards Act, which guaranteed a minimum wage, that he “do[es] not believe in it” and that he would abolish the minimum wage. And while he hasn’t called for the full repeal of the minimum wage, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.”
The minimum wage historically helped many families stay out of poverty. Up until the early 1980s, making the annual minimum wage income lifted a family of two above the federal poverty line. At its peak in 1968, it was enough to lift a family of three out of poverty. Yet despite rising inflation and worker productivity since then, the minimum wage has failed to keep up. It would be over $10 an hour today if it had risen with inflation since that high, and if it had kept pace with gains in productivity it would be more than $20 an hour.
As it is, however, working a 40 hour week at minimum wage won’t bring in enough money to afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country — workers would have to put in at least 80 hours a week. Working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks each year at the minimum wage only brings a worker $15,080, below the federal poverty line for a family of two or more. But bringing the wage in line with inflation by increasing it to $10.10 an hour would lift nearly 6 million people out of poverty, many of them women and people of color.
While critics of raising the minimum wage, like Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), claim that it will cost jobs, there’s little evidence to back that up. Several academic studies have shown that raising the wage doesn’t hurt employment, and one even found that states that raised their wages had slightly above average job growth. Perhaps that’s because a higher wage can benefit businesses through increasing demand, lowering turnover, and increasing employee performance.
Republicans may have once recognized this, as they weren’t always against a raise. At least 67 Republicans who are still serving in Congress today supported an increase under President George W. Bush, including Alexander and Ryan. Yet House Republicans unanimously voted down an increase in March.