If Republicans have any political sense at all, they’ll support not just raising the minimum wage, but indexing it.
The economic case for raising the wage, at a time when economic inequality is rampant, working-class incomes are declining, and Wal-Mart sales are falling through the floor, is overwhelming. But while Republicans may blow off the economic consequences of not raising the federal standard, they can’t be so cavalier in dismissing the political consequences.
The constituency that today’s GOP most desperately seeks to win, or at least neutralize, is Latinos—the ethnic group most clustered in low-wage jobs, and most certain to benefit from a minimum wage hike. In swing districts with substantial Latino populations, Democrats are certain to highlight Republican opposition to raising the wage in the 2014 elections.
Nor is support for a higher wage limited to Latinos. On each occasion in the past decade that a state minimum wage increase has been put before voters as a referendum or initiative, it has passed handily, including in red states like Arizona and purple states like Florida (where a ballot measure raising the wage garnered 72 percent support in 2004). Polling consistently shows large majorities favoring an increase in the federal minimum wage: Last year, a poll conducted by Celinda Lake found that 73 percent of likely voters favored raising it to $10 an hour and indexing it to inflation.
Given that the GOP is on the opposite side of public opinion every time that raising the minimum wage becomes an issue, its best way out of its self-created serial dilemma is to support creating a process that keeps the issue from coming up at all. The one way to do that is for the party to support indexing the wage to increases in the cost of living—in effect, making all subsequent wage hikes an automatic process based entirely on statistics. Just one GOP vote for a wage increase and indexing, and there will be no further need to take votes on that nasty minimum wage. For Republicans, indexing the wage inoculates them against any future damages that would otherwise arise from their Scrooge-like economics. Whether self-interest trumps that economic Scrooge-ism, however, remains to be seen.