The Minimal Minimum Wage

by Margaret Kimberley, published on Black Agenda Report, March 3, 2021

Most Democrats either don’t want a minimum wage increase or are too afraid of bucking their party’s donor class.

“Biden and the rest of the Democrats will never defy the people who butter their bread.”

The federal minimum wage has been a paltry $7.25 per hour  since 2009. In that year Barack Obama was president and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. That means they could have made it any amount they wanted, but it went from $6.55 to $7.25, a grand total of 70 cents.

We must keep this in mind as the drama of raising the minimum wage plays out in the Biden administration. House Democrats passed Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which does not include any provision to raise the minimum wage. The plan was to raise the meager sum to a less meager sum of $15 per hour, but by the year 2025. Even these crumbs didn’t make it into the bill.

The last minute claim that the Senate parliamentarian ruled against allowing the inclusion of minimum wage legislation should be taken as a joke or an insult depending upon one’s mood. The obvious effort to skirt responsibility is a typical Democratic Party ploy meant to keep gullible rubes at bay with tortured explanations.

“The obvious effort to skirt responsibility is a typical Democratic Party ploy.”

The machinations to avoid doing the right thing may be somewhat complicated, but the reasons behind the inaction are not. Simply put, most Democrats either don’t want a minimum wage increase or are too afraid of bucking their party’s donor class.

All of the studies, statistics, and articles about the increased wealth of the already wealthy are useless if they don’t explain what is happening. The 1% keep their positions secure if they make sure that workers are living in a constant state of insecurity. People who struggle to survive, who work yet who are homeless or who need public assistance to live are less likely to fight for their rights. They are not likely to join unions or even to complain in the workplace. The last thing that U.S. oligarchs want is for workers to feel secure.

“The 1% keep their positions secure if they make sure that workers are living in a constant state of insecurity.”

A lower minimum wage obviously hurts the people earning that small amount, the ripple effect keeps the entire economy the way the 1% want it. It helps to convince everyone that they are lucky to be working and that they shouldn’t expect raises or any protections as employees. They may not even be considered employees at all but instead be turned into “independent contractors,” a designation that strips workers of their rights. Real wages haven’t gone up in this country in 40 years and that suits fat cat donors and the politicians who depend on their largess.

It is sad to see the level of denial among some progressives on this and other issues. They scratch their heads and ask why Biden or Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders don’t do something to help. They rightly point out that the president of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris, can disregard the parliamentarian and put minimum wage language in the stimulus bill. But that scenario assumes that she or Biden are interested in doing that and are willing to go against the wishes of the people he promised that “nothing will fundamentally change.” Biden himself let the cat out of the bag in a meeting with governors and mayors as he told them the wage increase was unlikely. Floating bad news as a trial balloon is a tried and true political tactic.

“The ripple effect of a lower minimum wage keeps the entire economy the way the 1% want it.”

Progressives need to do as the old saying advises and wake up and smell the coffee. They live in wishful thinking, unreality, and vain hope that the people who have cheated workers for so long will actually do something different. Of course, Republicans are blamed and that suits Democrats just fine. They actually don’t care when they lose 900 legislative seats across the country as they did during the Obama administration. They get to continue their phony villains and heroes role playing a la professional wrestling and have ready excuses for doing the opposite of what their people want them to do.

The people who argued for supporting Biden in the name of lesser evilism or harm reduction need to be honest with themselves and others. He and the rest of the Democrats will never defy the people who butter their bread. A party that chooses a woman with a net worth of more than $100 million as Speaker is not one that will go out on a limb for working people. They made their bed with corporate interests and nothing that discomfits that group will be allowed to come to pass.

Let the hand wringing and the silly questions come to an end. There is nothing mysterious about the missing minimum wage legislation. The Democrats don’t want it to happen. No one can successfully fight these people without admitting the source of the problem. It just turns out that harm reduction isn’t so harmless.


Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere.  Her new book, Prejudential, looks at the history of US Presidents treatment of people of color.  She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog.   She is a member of the Administrative Committee of the United National Antiwar Movement.  Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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