Share

Opinion: Columnists

Obama's 'Give America a Raise' battle cry is misleading and disturbing

By |
Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,Barack Obama,Minimum Wage

In one of the most quoted lines of a tepid State of the Union address, President Obama implored Congress to “give America a raise” by increasing the federal minimum wage.

Obama was proud enough of the line to make it a regular catchphrase as he took his populist message on the road.

“Americans overwhelmingly agree [that] nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty,” he said at a Costco in Lanham, Md. “And that is why I firmly believe it’s time to give America a raise.”

He used the line again at a U.S. Steel plant in West Mifflin, Pa.

But the suggestion that Congress can and should give “America” a raise is both misleading and disturbing.

To start, increasing the minimum wage would only affect a subset of Americans.

In 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 1.6 million Americans were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's far less than the millions of people who had their health insurance plans cancelled as a result of Obama's health care law, which Obama dismissed as representing only a small portion of the public.

It’s true that Obama supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10, so if passed, the hike would affect more than the 1.6 million. But the number who would see their earnings go up is certainly not all of America.

Additionally, cutting against Obama’s portrayal of workers trying to raise families on the minimum wage, 55 percent of minimum wage workers are between 16 and 24 years of age; 67.9 percent were working part-time; and 66 percent were never married.

And this doesn't even get into the evidence, detailed by David Neumark, professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine, and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board, that raising the minimum wage lowers employment by making it more expensive for businesses to hire and retain workers.

Beyond the misleading nature of Obama’s statement equating higher minimum wages with a raise for “America,” it conveys a troubling view of the relationship between individuals and their government.

As White House spokesman Jay Carney put it, Obama was calling “on Congress to fulfill its responsibility to the American people and give America a raise.”

Yet at no point in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which lists the powers of Congress, nor any other part of the nation's founding document, does it say that the legislature has a responsibility to “give a raise” to the citizenry.

Earning more money is something to be voluntarily negotiated between a worker and employer, not something granted by an all-powerful, benevolent government.

For decades, liberals have wanted the government to play an increasingly paternalistic role in people’s lives and Obama’s new favorite line makes it sound as if Washington is everybody’s boss.

It’s an outgrowth of a political culture in which politicians sound like candidates for student government, competing to see who can grant more to the electorate by making increasingly absurd claims.

As is always the case with liberals, Obama is defining compassion as a willingness to dictate how others should allocate money. If conservatives don’t support the federal government forcing businesses to pay a certain wage, regardless of the effect on employment, they are portrayed as being unsympathetic to low-income families.

Despite the fact that raising the minimum wage would not give "America" a raise, Obama believes he has clever rhetorical flourish in his arsenal. But that says alarming things about how he views the role of the federal government.

View article comments Leave a comment