Billionaire Republican Donor Supports A $12 Minimum Wage

CREDIT: Flickr user Ken Yeung

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel

A ballot initiative to raise California’s minimum wage to $12 an hour got some support from an unlikely person: billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a big donor to Republicans and conservative causes.

When asked by the SF Gate about the ballot initiative, which is being advanced by another unlikely minimum wage proponent, conservative millionaire Ron Unz, Thiel gave some qualified support for the idea:

In theory I’m against it because people should have the freedom to contract whatever wage they’d like to have, but in practice I think the alternative to higher minimum wages is that people simply end up going on welfare… It’s a very out of the box idea but it’s something that one should consider seriously given all the other distorted incentives that exist.

Watch his response:

Thiel is right that given how low today’s minimum wage is, having stood at $7.25 for over four years, many people who work full time still don’t make enough to survive. While the minimum wage used to ensure a family of three lived above the poverty line, it won’t do that for a family of two today. It’s not enough to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment in any state.

And when a family works full time but still can’t afford basic necessities, many have to turn to public programs to make sure they can eat, pay rent, and buy clothes. Workers at Walmart, where most make less than $25,000 a year, consume about $1 million in public benefits a year at just one location. The same trend holds in the fast food industry, where workers earn $8.78 at the median and consume $243 billion in public benefits each year. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as has been proposed by President Obama, could lift nearly 5 million people out of poverty.

California workers are already a bit better off, given that its minimum wage will rise to $10 by 2016 after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law last year. Unz isn’t the only one pushing to raise it even higher, though. State Sen. Mark Leno (D) introduced a bill this year that would increase it to $12 by 2016 and to $13 the next year, which would easily make it the highest state wage in the country. And the state isn’t alone. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. are home to either legislative efforts or ballot initiatives to raise their wages. The greatest number are targeting $10.10 an hour, but some cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle, go as high as $15 an hour.