Any Democratic governor with a Republican Legislature will flog plenty of dead horses, and John Bel Edwards seems to have accepted his fate.
He may have taken some licks, but he is unbowed as he vows to soldier on with another hopeless cause. There is no reason to think legislators will change their mind and approve an increase in the minimum wage, but Edwards seems bent on forcing a vote on the issue in next year's session. If he fails, he will campaign on it again when he is up for re-election in 2019.
That probably won't hurt his prospects, for polls show 76 percent of voters favor raising the minimum wage. But Edwards would still be opposed by legislators either as a matter of profound ideological conviction and on account of he belongs to the other party, supposing anyone can tell the difference.
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Louisiana has not established its own minimum wage and adheres to the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, which would mean a hardscrabble life even for a single person of modest tastes. No family could survive on it in a fashion that could remotely be regarded as civilized. That this amounts to the exploitation of labor can hardly be disputed.
But a certain amount of social injustice is the price for the boons of capitalism; even if Edwards got his way, the working poor would always be with us. He proposes to raise our minimum wage, over two years, to $8.50. It is a measure of what desperate lives some working stiffs must live that even such a trifling measure would bring joy to many a humble household.
Most states and several cities already require employers to pay more than the federal rate, so Edwards is not proposing that Louisiana go out on a Marxist wing, although that is how the business lobby is wont to portray any move to loosen its purse strings. A higher minimum wage would force them to lay off some employees and cut the hours of others, they say.
They oppose a higher minimum wage, not because they are heartless and grasping, but because they want to spread the benefits of gainful employment far and wide. Maybe so, for some. But it is also possible that the loudest protestations of concern for the dispossessed will come from employers making fat profits on the backs of underpaid workers.
Whether an increased minimum wage would, in the aggregate, help or harm its supposed beneficiaries is not a question susceptible to a ready answer. As in any debate about economics, there is no shortage of data in support of conflicting positions, but the business lobby has so far prevailed with the proposition that any raise in the minimum wage would be a job killer.
It may well be that businesses in the various states and cities now planning a $15-an-hour minimum wage will wind up cutting payroll, but it is unlikely that the raise Edwards contemplates would produce the predicted ruin. Businesses will always pass increased costs onto their customers, who would surely eat just as many burgers if the guy who flips them made a lousy extra $50 a week.
The minimum wage at its current level is scarcely worth having, since it is hard to imagine that anyone would ever work for less. Even with Edwards' raise, adjusted for inflation, it would be worth much less than it was in 1968. It is a wonder that 53,000 people in Louisiana are prepared to show up for work that pays a $7.25 an hour.
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Lots of them, as opponents of a raise are fond of pointing out, are young, live with relatively prosperous parents and are just looking for splurging dough. But family breadwinners rely on the minimum wage, too — about a third of the workers on it nationwide are over 34 — and the privations that entails must make it hard for them to believe in the dignity of labor.
Our failure to require an adequate wage has not only left many of the working poor dependent on government bailouts but also been blamed for obesity and premature death linked to bad diet and inadequate health care.
Take that with a grain of salt, by all means. But Edwards does appear to be on the right side of this issue, which pretty much ensures he will lose in the Legislature.
Email James Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.