Is there anyone in Congress or the White House, elected official or staff member, who would work for $9 an hour?

For someone so ept at electoral politics, President Obama has repeatedly shown himself to be artless when it comes to the political side of governance. On issue after issue, he has entered policy negotiations with low-ball proposals that set-up compromises that, in real terms, hand victory to his opponents.

Take the $9 minimum wage proposal. A person making $9 an hour will earn, before deductions, $360 a week. That's working a full 40-hour week, but many retail and service jobs offer much shorter hours. Even a worker lucky enough to land two full-time jobs -- 80 hours a week -- would take home less than $720 a week after deductions. Clearly, a minimum wage of $9 is not sufficient if the goal is to assure that, as the president said Tuesday in his address to Congress, no one with a full time job should have to live in poverty.

The problem with Obama's maladroit handling of negotiations with the conservatives is that he establishes benchmarks that, while they may achieve "compromise," not only don't fix the problem being addressed but make it less likely that a better result can be achieved in the future (think of health care reform). If a deal at all cost is your goal, $9 may make some sense; as policy, it's ridiculous.

Labor and liberals should have nothing to do with it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's pretty obvious that the absolute rock-bottom acceptable minimum wage is about $11.50, and even that would make it difficult live in many parts of the country. But you don't achieve $11.50 if you open negotiations at $9. You probably can't get there if you start with a call for $11.50. You begin from, say, $15 (which is more reasonable anyway), and you bargain down from there. You accept $11.50 (and a built-in cost-of-living increase) in the spirit of compromise.

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