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Last week voters in four states–Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota–approved minimum wage increases that will address in part the eroding value of their state’s minimum wage for workers earning at the lowest end of the wage distribution.  As of January 1st, at least 25 states will have minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25.

It turns out voters and state policymakers recognize that the wage floor must have some connection to what workers need to make ends meet and what wage conditions are in the labor market overall.

At Prosperity Watch this week, the Budget & Tax Center looked at the minimum wage to median wage ratio in North Carolina over time.  This ratio signals the strength of a minimum wage relative to local labor market conditions.  The lower the ratio, the fewer goods and services a worker can purchase for every additional hour worked. North Carolina’s minimum wage to median wage ratio fell from 64.4 percent in 1979 to 41.2 percent in 2013.  Find out more at Prosperity Watch here.

Commentary

The powerful combination of history, an inexhaustible money machine and shameless gerrymandering produced impressive electoral victories for the Right in this week’s election, but it also remains a powerful truth that when you actually ask voters directly for their opinions on core pocketbook issues, they continue to favor progressive solutions.

You’ve probably already heard about the overwhelming success of several minimum wage hike proposals around the country, but here’s another striking example in which even red state voters voted overwhelmingly for the progressive position: Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin.

On Tuesday, the Badger state held an advisory referendum in which voters in 19 counties and one mid-size city were asked whether the state should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The vote: Yes – 73%, No-27%.

Now, mind you, the referendum wasn’t just conducted in a few liberal bastions. Read More

Commentary

With massive majorities in both legislative houses and a governor who would poses little more than an occasional speed bump — if that — to their plans for reactionary change, North Carolina’s far right movement appears poised to roll back the clock a few more decades when the new General Assembly convenes next January. On virtually every issue — from taxes to health care to education to an array of social issues — North Carolinians should get ready for a new onslaught of reactionary laws.

School vouchers for every student? Constitutional spending caps to eviscerate public spending? An attempt to confer “personhood” on embryos? New efforts to merge church and state? Just name the extreme/outlandish idea and you can pretty much rest assured that there will be a proposal to implement it and that many such efforts will succeed.

Some, of course, depends on who the new House Speaker turns out to be and just how far he (it will almost assuredly be a “he”) wants to push things. If it’s a McCrory ally or someone like him, it’s conceivable that there could me some moderation. If, on the other hand, it’s a reactionary true believer like Paul Stam or someone of his ilk, things could get very grim very fast.

Observers looking for some inklings of hope in all of this might want to consider some of the ballot initiative results from other states last night in which even very conservative voters made clear that here not ready to go that far. In both Colorado and North Dakota, for instance, voters overwhelmingly rejected “personhood” amendments that would have  conferred constitutional rights on fertilized eggs. In other states, voters strongly supported increases in the minimum wage.

Perhaps these votes will be interpreted by the far right powers-that-be in North Carolina as demonstrations of the obvious truth that voters are not nearly as reactionary they are and that, as much as they’d like to, pushing the envelope with a truly extreme agenda could backfire. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with true believers, it’s just as likely that they will see 2015 as their “big chance” to do what they’ve always wanted. Based on the performance during the last four years, the latter scenario seems the most likely.

Commentary

raise the wageHere’s an issue that North Carolina conservatives are no doubt delighted isn’t on the ballot in the Old North State tomorrow (other than through the positions of the candidates): the minimum wage.

Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times explains in this article entitled “In State Voting on Minimum Wage, Even Critics Sound Like Supporters”:

In state after state, labor unions and community groups have pushed lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, but those efforts have faltered in many places where Republicans control the legislature.

Frustrated by this, workers’ advocates have bypassed the legislature and placed a minimum-wage increase on the ballot in several red states — and they are confident that voters will approve those measures on Tuesday.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, binding referendums would raise the state minimum wage above the $7.25 an hour mandated by the federal government.

These measures are so overwhelmingly popular in some states, notably Alaska and Arkansas, that the opposition has hardly put up a fight.

Poll results in North Carolina on the issue are similarly encouraging. And while North Carolina is obviously not a ballot initiative state, it’s surprising that this issue hasn’t been more front and center in this fall’s election debate. Let’s hope that changes in 2015.

Commentary
Photo: NC State AFL-CIO

Photo: NC State AFL-CIO

Don’t you just love it when the business lobby and their toadies in the far right think tanks get all misty-eyed about the fate of those poor, poor workers who will supposedly be so much worse off if the minimum wage rises substantially?

You know the rap:

“Hey, it would be great if workers could make much higher wages in industries like fast food, but if they did, the employers would all go out of business and all those workers would be out of jobs. See, it’s those poor, minority kids we really care about. We’re fighting to keep the minimum wage low and maybe even do away with it for their sake.”

The next time someone lays this yarn on you, tell them to check out this article in yesterday’s New York Times about life as a fast food worker in Denmark.  As reporters Liz Alderman and Steve Greenhouse discovered, decent wages and the fast food industry are not at all mutually exclusive:

“On a recent afternoon, Hampus Elofsson ended his 40-hour workweek at a Burger King and prepared for a movie and beer with friends. He had paid his rent and all his bills, stashed away some savings, yet still had money for nights out.

That is because he earns the equivalent of $20 an hour — the base wage for fast-food workers throughout Denmark and two and a half times what many fast-food workers earn in the United States.

‘You can make a decent living here working in fast food,’ said Mr. Elofsson, 24. ‘You don’t have to struggle to get by.’”

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