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The Minimum Wage and Red States


The thing about the rejection of raising the minimum wage by 50 Republicans and 8 Democrats is that it is a punch in the face of working class people. It’s no great unknown that the poorest Americans live in states that vote solidly Republican; what’s the matter with Kansas was always a ridiculous question because it ignored the obvious fact that American voters routinely put their perceived racial and gendered and religious interests over their class interests. But nonetheless, it remains frustrating that white workers don’t do more to push their political leaders to help them out economically. Greg Sargent recently had a good run-down of the numbers around this issue.

The Brookings analysis also found that red states have disproportionately large numbers of people who will be left behind by this failure.

Of the 23.8 million people whose 2019 wages would be lifted with a federal hike, around 12.4 million reside in the 22 states with two Republican senators, Brookings found. That number is more significant than it seems, since those states tend to be less populous.

By contrast, only 7.3 million of those workers live in the 23 states that have two Democratic senators. And the remaining 4.2 million live in states with one senator from each party or in D.C.

First, as Muro pointed out, one key reason so many people who would be impacted are in red states is that some blue states have already passed minimum-wage hikes that are on track to reach $15 on their own.

While a number of red states have raised their minimum wage, none (except Florida) are on track to $15. That means a lot of people in red states that have raised their minimum wages will still get left behind by Congress’s failure.

Plus, this takes a large number of blue-state residents out of the calculus of who will ultimately be hurt by this failure. “More coastal and Democratic states have begun to move their wage standards towards $15,” Muro said.

Meanwhile, virtually all Democratic senators favor the $15 minimum wage, while just about all Republican senators oppose it. (A handful have proposed less-ambitious hikes.)

It’s true that some progressives are angry at the Democratic leadership over this failure: They want Democrats to get around the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling that the hike can’t pass via a simple majority by reconciliation.

But even if they did, there aren’t 50 Democratic votes to pass it, with Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) opposed. Their opposition is dispiriting: West Virginia is a very poor state, and as James Downie points out, Arizona has already passed one of the highest minimum wages in the country, so Sinema is denying the same benefit to others.

But Sinema is so stylish when denying workers food and shelter! In any case, why worry about the minimum wage when we can spend time on Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss, the real issues affecting working Americans today.

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