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David Gaul
Shelby County Democratic Party Co-Chair


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David Gaul
Donna Clothier
Kathleen Cue

THE KING'S DEBACLE

Back in 1967, when Steve King was stocking shelves at the Super-Valu grocery store in Denison, Iowa--and contemplating how he was going to avoid military service--he was earning, I suspect, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.40 per hour, the federal minimum wage at the time.  Now, as someone seventeen or eighteen years old, he might have considered this big money, but if his boss at the time had come up to him and informed him that he was about to get a bump in his wage because the minimum wage had been increased by the federal government, what would have been 17-year old Steve King's reaction?  Would he have paused to consider the ramifications of such an increase?  Would he have been concerned about the possible loss in profits of his employer?  Would he have been concerned about possible layoffs?  Would he have been concerned about consumers and the prices they possibly would have to pay as a result?

Somehow, I doubt it, unless he had just written an English theme on the opportunities missed because Barry Goldwater had been crushed in the '64 election.  No, I think he would have gladly accepted the increase as most seventeen or eighteen-year olds would have, grateful that maybe if he were frugal with his expenses he could finally afford to buy that 1962 Plymouth Valiant from Coleman  Motors or maybe that 1960 Chevy Impala from Johnson Motors.  And then maybe--just maybe--he could use his new set of wheels to take his girlfriend to the Beacon Drive-in eatery where waitresses on rollerskates could serve them cheeseburgers and fries and large root beers.  They could motor up to the Denison Theater and catch the first showing of Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison and Samatha Eggar, with a stop-off afterwards at the Kandy Kitchen next door for a Twin Bing candy bar and a Coke from an actual soda fountain.  Heady stuff, money.  It went a long way in 1967.  I wonder if he would have listened to... Jefferson Airplane... on the car radio?  No, probably not.  Maybe... Neil Sedaka?  

My speculation is that the thoughts and aspirations of that seventeen-year old Steve King in 1967 were a distant memory forty years later.  He was no longer stocking cans of Van Camps Pork and Beans at his hometown Super Valu.  He was no longer having to hide that extra can of  Campell's Chicken-with-Rice Soup behind that row of Chicken Noodle because he had run out of room for the former. 

In 2007, Steve King was just starting his third term as a U.S congressman.  The Fair Minimum Wage Act was being voted on in Congress.  It proposed to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 per hour and then eventually to $7.25 by 2009  At the time of the debate, the minimum wage hadn't been raised in ten years.  George Bush had been in the White House for nearly seven years, but had never proposed an increase.  The 2006 midterms, however, gave the House to the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi.  Things were going to be different.  The bill passed.  The Fair Minimum Wage bill became law, but guess which former Super-Valu stocker voted against it? 

Sadly, Congressman King registered a "Nay" vote,  and with that vote he affirmed a number of personal beliefs.   21st century stockers at the Denison Hy-Vee, the Denison No-Frills and the Denison Fareway didn't need a wage increase.  A single mom working the hamburger fryer at the Denison Burger King or ringing up gasoline purchases at the local Kum & Go didn't need a wage increase.  A 28-year old, legal Mexican immigrant working one of those big floor scrubbers at 2 a.m. at the Denison Walmart didn't need a wage increase.  And that high school kid loading up fence posts for that farmer at Bomgaars could stop entertaining any notions about purchasing that 1994 Chevy Silverado  pickup--the one with a bit of rust--from Johnson Motors. 

No, sir.  By King's way of thinking, that wage increase he voted against could seriously damage the profit prospects of the Walton family and their Walmart empire.  The Denison Burger King franchise could very well have to close up.  And the Hy-Vee uptown would be lucky to hang on in its battle for market share with No-Frills and Fareway if the minimum wage were increased.

But lo and behold, here in 2014, those enterprises are still going in Denison.  The sky didn't fall.  They still employ armies of people, and their workers are a lot happier now to be earning $7.25 per hour instead of $5.15 per hour that Steve King wished them to remain at.  Furthermore, since the last increase of the federal minimum wage in July of 2009, we have had forty-seven months of uninterrupted job growth in which 8.5 million jobs have been created, belying the notion that increasing the federal minimum wage leads to job loss.

Nearly five years have passed, however, since that last increase in the minimum wage.  During that time corporate profits have soared.  Income inequality is higher now than in 1928 before the crash.  1.75 million workers who work at or below the minimum wage are twenty-five years old or older, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This is a far different picture than when Steve King was stocking groceries at Super-Valu.

The Congressional Budget Office has now released a new analysis on the economic impact of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.    According to the report, 900,000 American workers would be lifted out of poverty.  16.5 million workers would see their wages rise.  In total, workers would see their earnings rise by $31 billion.  The CBO also stated that 500,000 jobs could be lost.  However, a February 2013 analysis of the minimum wage done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded: "The weight of the evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage."  It's a conclusion Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman agrees with.  In a February 2013 opinion piece for the New York Times he wrote: "...workers aren’t bushels of wheat or even Manhattan apartments; they’re human beings, and the human relationships involved in hiring and firing are inevitably more complex than markets for mere commodities."

I'll take that one step further based on my own past experience as a wage earner and as someone who had to hire people while offering them a wage based on the federal minimum.  There's one factor that the CBO report could not assign a dollar value to, and it's arguably the most important factor when it comes to the workplace.  Morale.  The morale of a worker is something that can't be quantified.  It's an intangible.  Go to a typical workplace on a Monday.  Go back to it on a Friday before the weekend.  You'll notice a difference.  It may be subtle, but it will be there.  Workers will be in a better mood.  More money in a paycheck also puts workers in a better mood.  Bolstering the positive attitudes of employees can only help a company's prospects.  Furthermore, boosting the minimum wage of workers may well affect the entire wage scale that a company is operating under.  It's the ripple effect.  Everyone benefits. 

And the idea that layoffs will result as a consequence of raising the minimum wage just doesn't make sense on the macro level.  Most of the jobs affected by an increase in the minimum wage would be in the service sector, an area of our economy that is thriving.  It would be hard for a supermarket or a big box store to cut jobs because it takes x-number of hours to keep the shelves full and in order, to wait on customers, to unpack cartons of merchandise and to keep the place neat and tidy.  It's simple physics.  And while the companies affected by an increase in the minimum wage may raise their prices, it bothers me--and it should bother others--that many companies which could well afford to absorb such payroll costs because of their enormous profit margins are never blamed or held accountable for passing on those costs so readily to the consumer. 

Contrarians to the minimum wage would sooner rip into the workers themselves, blaming them for their inablity to get higher paying jobs, or the federal government for establishing a minimum wage in the first place rather than blaming a big company for being stingy and miserly when it comes to its employees.     

But folks like Steve King do not grasp these concepts.  They do treat people like "bushels of wheat."  Already, Steve King has come out against President Obama and his executive order to raise the minimum wage for employees of private contractors who are working for the federal government.  King says it violates the Constitution, as if a former bulldozer operator and college dropout were a constitutional expert. 

I can say with 100% certainty that he will vote against a minimum wage bill if it ever comes before this current House of Representatives.  That's because this 2014 version of Steve King is probably nothing like the high-school version, the one who had to mop up that broken jar of Welch's Grape Jelly in aisle three at the Denison Super-Valu.  This Steve King is a filled vessel, brimming with ideological bilge from the dark  fringe of the right wing, who nowadays is more likely to advise a struggling family to head to their nearest Hy-Vee the day they're throwing out the spoiled bananas.




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