Jordan Green talks pros and cons of Oklahoma raising minimum wage

by Jordan Green

Is it time to raise the state's minimum wage? One Oklahoma lawmaker thinks so.

A newly-filed bill in the Oklahoma State Legislature would increase the state's minimum wage to $10.50 per hour, a sharp increase from the current $7.25 rate.

Federal law sets the minimum wage at $7.25, but states have the power to raise the minimum wage above the federal rate. Employers are bound by law to pay the wage that is greater, whether it's the state's or the federal government's.

Thirty-one states have raised their minimum wages, including the nearby states of Missouri and Arkansas. Texas and Kansas have not, meaning they join Oklahoma in following the federal rate.

Missouri's rate is $8.60 per hour, and Arkansas' is $10.

The bill was filed by Oklahoma City Democrat George Young. He said in a media release announcing his bill that employees deserve a raise because the “spending power” of paychecks for people making minimum wage “has been significantly reduced.”

The debate over the bill, whether it makes its way out of committee and onto the floor or not, could be heated. In places where the minimum wage has been raised, employees have been laid off, and the hours they're allowed to work each week have been reduced. In the long run, employees could end up making less money – if they're even able to keep their jobs. The reason: Small businesses can't afford dramatic increases in pay for their employees without dramatic increases in revenue. Money doesn't grow on trees, especially in rural areas where businesses have tight budgets.

Should employees lose their jobs, they'd likely have a hard time paying necessary bills and affording things like healthcare and groceries. And if they lose full-time employment status by having their hours reduced, they could lose their benefits, effectively becoming trapped in dead-end jobs with no way out.

The cost of living in the United States has gone up in recent years, no doubt. But minimum wage jobs aren't jobs that people are supposed to have forever. Ideally, people would work at places paying minimum wage in order to gain skills, experience, and references that they can take with them to work at higher-paying jobs. They could use those skills to help pay for an education, and they could even use them to start their own businesses.

The idea of a minimum wage is in and of itself a flawed one. Because we have a minimum wage, it's the government – not the economy – that determines what employees get.

The argument for having a minimum wage is that “greedy” companies would pay their employees little to nothing without the government's divine intervention. But without a minimum wage, companies that tried to pay their workers substandard wages would lose their employees to companies that pay higher wages. Greedy companies would then have to raise their wages and pay employees what they're worth in order to remain competitive in the job market. Without employees, you can't turn out a product, and you can't make any money. Companies would learn that lesson quickly.

While some employees might gain from raising the minimum wage, it's important to remember that many small companies would suffer and ultimately have to reduce their staffs, cut the number of hours employees can work, or shut down entirely. We've seen this happen elsewhere. As a matter of fact, it's happened in so many places – and to so many people – that one organization has an entire website devoted to telling the stories of teenagers and adults who lost their jobs – or who are unable to find jobs – in places with higher minimum wages. That organization is called “The Faces of 15,” which refers to a $15-per-hour minimum wage. I could tell you all about it, but there's only so much space in this newspaper. Instead, check it out for yourself. Here's the web address: It's worth your time to check this out.

Read about some of the people who have been hurt by higher minimum wages. Then ask yourself: Is that the kind of economy we want to create in Oklahoma?

Sadly, no matter how good an argument someone crafts, we all know that the minimum wage will never be eradicated in this country. So if it is to remain in effect, and if it must increase, it should be raised in small, timely increments so that businesses have some time to adjust. You can't throw small businesses to the wolves of higher wages and expect them to return from the battle alive.

As someone who makes less than $10.50 an hour, I can tell you this much: I don't want to lose my job, and I don't want to have to work fewer hours. Because of that, I don't want the minimum wage to be raised. And I know I'm not alone.

A minimum wage hike is a great accomplishment for a Democratic politician looking to market himself as a progressive liberal who seeks to protect the working class. But that same wage hike could have disastrous effects on the very people it's supposed to protect: The men and women of the working class.

I'll give Mr. Young the benefit of the doubt; I'm sure he has good intentions by filing this bill. After all, it sounds like a noble goal – at first glance.

But as a wise man once wrote, “God save us from people who mean well.”