Minimum wage debate arrives in Arlandria

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) visited the Arlandria branch of MOM’s Organic Market on Monday to laud the company’s practice of paying workers above the federal minimum wage.

Kaine toured the Mount Vernon Avenue store with MOM’s CEO Scott Nash in advance of heated debate in Congress this week over a bill raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour in the next several years. He said that MOM’s shows opponents and other companies that raising the wage is not a so-called “job killer.”

“Scott has a great business, and it has huge fans everywhere,” Kaine said.

Critics contend forcing companies to pay minimum wage employees more will cast a pall over the still struggling economy. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t reduce the supply of jobs, but rather means increased spending, Kaine argued.

“The recession was because of a drop in consumer demand,” he said. “They will spend more with extra money [from wages] and that, in turn, helps businesses.”

Better wages are good for the government’s bottom line too, increasing tax revenue and reducing spending on public assistance programs like food stamps, Kaine argued. And larger paychecks will help balance the wealth scale in the United States, he said.

“If the minimum wage were indexed back in the 1960s, you would already see wages over $10,” Kaine said. “It’s why you see income inequality rising in recent years.”

While the debate on Capitol Hill has taken center stage nationally, states and localities across the country have weighed in on the issue.

Although Virginia did not raise the minimum wage during its legislative session this year, D.C. is increasing its hourly wage to $11.50 over the next two years, and Maryland’s General Assembly still is considering lifting that state’s minimum to $10.10 before its session ends next week.

And city councilors in Richmond, Calif., situated in the San Francisco Bay Area, are considering making their locality’s minimum wage one of the highest in the country at $12.30 an hour.

The downside of such a hodgepodge approach to increasing the minimum wage, Kaine said, is that it creates complications for businesses. While he commended states that are examining or have already passed minimum wage hikes, Kaine prefers the uniformity of a federal mandate.

“The problem is we hear from businesses that if one state does raise it and one doesn’t, it’s hard to comply with both,” Kaine said. “That’s why I like doing it at the federal level.”

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