By Haridos Apostolides, US Correspondent
The end of April saw the proposed federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour defeated by a Republican-led filibuster in the United States’ Senate, all because it is claimed not to be the job of the federal government to decide salaries.
The vote, however, wasn’t about giving millions of working Americans a pay raise but rather to decide if the Senate should merely discuss whether they deserve one.
Democrats and Republicans live for divisive, partisan politics and crave little more than a chance to point fingers at the other side for dismantling “our great nation”. The fight for a minimum wage hike is no different.
And while it seems simplistic to claim those on the far right have only the interests of billionaires and corporations, the fact all but one Republican voted against the proposition leaves little room for alternative interpretations.
We all want to see hardworking American families work their way toward the American dream, but we’re not going to be able to do that by the federal government setting wages.
As argued by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) on the Senate floor, this statement stands to justify the party line that government should not interfere with the free market.
There is some worth to this view. We know the government cannot dictate the economy or every aspect of business operations. We also know increasing wages will encourage some corporations to reduce hours or cut jobs in an effort to defend the profits of directors and board members to whom they have an obligation.
Still waiting on the twenty-five year promise
Many on the right staunchly believe in “Reaganomics” (named for President Ronald Reagan), or “trickle-down economics”, which claims alleviating tax burdens on corporations and wealthy businessmen and women encourages reinvestment, creating a positive effect on those further down the economic chain.
A quarter of a century since Reagan left the White House and those at the lower end are still waiting for their glass to be half full.
Since the market collapse in 2008 the gap between America’s richest and poorest grew more than in the decade it succeeded. This is not new. Neither is the fact 2012 saw the wealthiest ten per cent take home more than 50 per cent of all gross income.
It is also unsurprising that duplicitous Republicans, while simultaneously voting down a pay increase for working Americans, have continued to push for extensions of Bush era Tax Cuts which benefit only the wealthiest.
What is surprising about the Republican response to this proposed bill is the sheer lack of government oversight which would be involved. At the same time as offering workers a living wage, up from 2009’s $7.25 (£4.30 approximately) rate, it would see all future increases based on inflation and not on the decision (or indecision) of bought and paid for puppets in the Capitol.
And most shockingly important: the bill would have cost taxpayers a total of zero dollars in federal funding. A dream bill for the far right.
“$15? Why not make it $100,000?!”
It seems appealing solely to base constituents has made Republican representatives forget from where their salaries actually derive. Comprised of mostly anti-government, “self-made real Americans”, the Republican base has taken it upon themselves to label anyone asking for the minimum wage increase as either lazy, undeserving, or a slacker living off state handouts. FOX News even devoted an entirely new segment to this “problem”: ‘Entitlement Nation: Takers vs. Makers’.
To appreciate the sheer level of gullibility of those who believe everything politicians say, one needs to only consider the American fast food industry which currently costs taxpayers close to $7billion annually. The average fast food employee makes $8.69 an hour, or an average salary barely reaching $11,000. The reliance on handouts, says Ken Jacobs of the University of California Berkeley, is “the rule rather than the exception”, even for those who work in excess of forty hours a week.
Contrary to popular belief, many of those who work in the fast food sector are not young, college students who still live at home. In fact most are breadwinners who have to seek assistance through food stamps, Medicaid and other government programmes in order to provide for their families. “For the vast majority,” wrote Martha C. White of TIME Magazine, “there’s little hope they’ll ever move up the socioeconomic ladder and escape this cycle of poverty and dependency.”
Despite this, pundits in right wing media decided to not just mock but sickeningly belittle the working poor’s request to seek a better standard of living:
“What we’re really talking about is rewarding mediocrity”, and “$15? Why not make it $100,000?!”
Winning the argument isn’t winning
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written you’ll know that 2014 is an election year for the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate who will be facing voters in November. And as a preamble to this, both sides are playing the same game, blaming the other for the lagging economic growth which has failed to lead the world by example.
On the same day as the minimum wage proposal, the Department of Commerce announced a growth of 0.1 per cent for the first quarter of 2014, an anaemic figure hardly eliciting awe in American superpower. And while it is believed the incredible polar vortex – which shut down most of the eastern seaboard over the winter months – was a key cause in this upset, the coming months are projecting promising growth in the economy and larger drops in unemployment which currently sits at around 6.3 per cent.
However the problems facing the future of the United States will not change unless process is changed. This year Democrats will battle it out with Republicans over who is better suited to fix the economy. But neither have demonstrated the skills to correct past mistakes. Their involvement is so focused on winning arguments it would be astonishing to discover if any knew how to actually govern.
The blame instead rests firmly on the voters whose ignorance has bred naivety and resulted in jumping on political bandwagons over the rational critique of what they are being told. Until the electorate truly realises their culpability and seeks to understand the problems, it is unlikely that “our great nation” will ever be great again.