Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

January 22, 2014

The minimum wage debate

SPRINGFIELD — I remember the first newspaper job I had working at the Galesburg Register-Mail.

I was a student writing obituaries over the summer making $3.35 an hour.

That was the federal minimum wage back then.

I don’t know how many times that news editor would yell at me and say the word “cemetery” does not have an “a” in it.

My story is hardly unique.

Just about everyone I know can look back on a low-paying gig doing something like flipping burgers, bagging groceries or washing cars.

Those jobs provided us with our first steps into the workforce.

They were where you learned skills like showing up for work on time, following directions, treating customers politely — or spelling “cemetery” correctly.

The minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage — just a starting one.

There is a push now to increase the Illinois minimum wage to $10 per hour. It is currently $8.25 per hour.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Gov. Pat Quinn has taken to comparing opponents of the wage hike to Old Man Potter, the stingy banker in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or Montgomery Burns, the greedy nuclear plant owner in “The Simpsons.”

Such comments make for good political theater, but they do little to advance public discourse on a challenging economic issue.

Everyone in this political debate wants a more prosperous society — we just disagree on how that can be accomplished.

The problem with Quinn’s plan is the more you increase the cost of any particular commodity, the more you suppress demand.

That’s true of candy bars, automobiles and anything you can think of — including labor.

Every time employers consider hiring, they ask themselves how that investment will enable them to earn money.

If the cost of labor is too high they will simply opt not to hire anyone.

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