Author’s Note: The substance of this post was published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on March 23, 2022. Below is the originally drafted, longer commentary.
Recently, as I lay in bed late one night, my brain drifted to frustration over discourse on the minimum wage. The Legislature’s continued deference to the business community and their baseless opposition to increasing the minimum wage in Hawaii. Or really, anywhere.
Whether it’s the Chamber of Commerce, Retail Merchants’ Association, the Restaurant Association, or just about any other staple opponents to the minimum wage, their talking points are tired, rote, and too often contrary to facts.
Historical Context Matters
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. And while I laid in bed, I wondered just how far back goes their self-interested and inaccurate opposition.
The next day, I began my search and came across a letter from the Brooklyn Merchant Bakers Association. Their letter “chiefly objected to the bill’s maximum work hours and overtime pay provisions”. The bill here refers to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. However, their complaint that it would increase the cost of production and the price of baked goods for consumers is eerily similar to some objections over the minimum wage. The letter is dated August 13, 1937.
Another oft-repeated talking point from opponents is that the minimum wage was created as a “starting wage”. Or a “training wage” for teenagers entering the workforce. Though this blatant (and convenient) rewriting of history is repeatedly corrected by minimum wage advocates, it persists nonetheless. In fact, we can look to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s own words as evidence. In a speech he gave in support of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, as evidence:
“It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
Pretty unequivocal language, it seems to me.
100 Years of Opposition
I continued my search for evidence of business historically spewing misinformation in their opposition to minimum wage increases. Or the minimum wage itself. Before long, I came across a 2013 report published by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). The report looks at 100 years of opposition to the minimum wage.
As someone who has been fighting for a living wage since 2012, I can attest these talking points haven’t changed.
A preponderance of evidence contradicts their fear-mongering. Increases in the minimum wage have not caused the financial sky to fall. One might practically expect nothing less from industries that rely on cheap labor for their profits. As such, it’s hard for me to be disappointed in them. Nonetheless, I find offensive their continued false rhetoric.
Industry groups like the Restaurant Association have, for a century, warned that forced wage increases would lead to business closures and job losses. The NELP report highlights, in one of its many figures, the steady growth of the restaurant industry from 2007 to 2013 as compared to the increase in the federal minimum wage over the same period.
In Hawaii, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, between 2014 and 2018 (the same period as the state’s last minimum wage increase):
- The number of people employed by small businesses (defined as up to 500 employees) increased by 3% to 275,076;
- The total number of small businesses grew by 8% to 137,328;
- The number of very small businesses (up to 20 employees) grew by 3% to 21,541
During the same period, in Hawaii, the unemployment rate dropped each year the minimum wage increased.
In fact, there is no reliable statistically significant data that I could find that shows a direct correlation between business closures and increases in the minimum wage.
It’s Time to Ignore Business Rhetoric and Support Workers
Our elected officials, again and again, refuse to base their decision-making on facts and evidence. Rather, again and again, they succumb to the fear-mongering. Or, maybe it’s not the fear-mongering at all. But rather the substantial financial support their campaigns receive from the likes of the Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Association, and their ilk.
I hope our elected officials will base their decision-making on the preponderance of evidence regarding the minimum wage. Not the patently false centenarian talking points of the collective business associations.
They should consider working families more and campaign contributions less. It’s time for our elected officials to lean toward workers, rather than business.