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Ethan: Now that 82 percent of Americans support a federal minimum wage hike, with 55 percent believing it should be raised to $15, are you finally on board that everyone in America should be making more than $7.25 an hour?
Phil: I would love it if every worker in America made more than $7.25 an hour. In fact, you may not have noticed, but 29 states already have minimum wages above $7.25. That’s why I support letting the states and municipalities determine the best minimum wage for their economy.
Ethan: That’s funny, I don’t remember you supporting Maine’s statewide hike to $12 an hour a couple years ago, or Portland’s hike to $15/$18 last fall?
Phil: Correct, because I felt both went too far, too fast, for our economy. Maine now has the seventh highest minimum wage in the country, and the second highest in New England.
Ethan: All that said, don’t you agree there has to be a basic wage at the federal level to make sure no worker is working full time and still on welfare?
Phil: Sure. But in case you haven’t noticed, it costs a lot more to rent an apartment in Washington state than it does in West Virginia. So set a reasonable floor and let the states and the market do the rest.
Ethan: Washington also has 40 percent fewer families living in poverty than West Virginia. Do you think that might have something to do with the fact that Washington’s minimum wage is $13.69, the highest in the nation, while West Virginia is stuck at $7.25?
Phil: I expect it’s the other way around. Washington keeps forcing wages on the private sector, instead of letting the market work it out. That makes it more and more unaffordable for a family to survive. But that’s their choice.
Ethan: Then why is it that of the 15 states and territories with the highest rates of poverty 13 have minimum wages at or below the federal minimum wage?
Phil: There are many factors that create poverty and when you raise wages artificially in areas that can’t absorb the spike, it harms the poorest among us. Didn’t you see the Congressional Budget Office report that showed 1.4 million lost jobs if we go to $15 an hour?
Ethan: I did. Isn’t it funny that right-wing media ignored the part of the report that said 27 million workers will receive wage increases and almost a million will be brought out of poverty? Name me another government policy that would do that much for so many so quickly.
Phil: A better policy than one that moves a million people out of poverty, in exchange for firing 1.4 million others? You must be kidding.
Ethan: A better policy than one that provides raises to 27 million people, thereby closing the largest income gap our country has ever seen.
Phil: How about instead of trying to insert more government into the economy, you stop mandating so many costs that force employers to spend money elsewhere?
Ethan: Have you not noticed that the stock market and profits are through the roof for many big American companies? The problem isn’t those profits being sucked up into government coffers. The problem is shareholder and corporate greed.
Phil: The big American companies you speak of, like Walmart and Amazon, are already paying $13 to $15 an hour as a minimum, and the profits you speak of go to support the retirement plans of these workers. But these are huge companies. My concern is with the family-held businesses in rural areas.
Ethan: OK, so you believe there should be a basic minimum set by the federal government, with states and localities being allowed to go higher. What’s your floor?
Phil: Well, currently, 30 percent of American workers make less than $10.10 an hour. How about we use that as our starting point?
Ethan: Perfect! The House bill moves the wage to $9.50 this year, so we are ahead of the game. Now I just need your support to gradually increase it to the $15 that is needed by 2025.
Phil: Can you let President Joe Biden know his $15 an hour now has just been put on hold?
Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.