- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

Today, Congress will consider yet another minimum wage hike, a measure that is surely without any justification in a booming economy that has produced record labor shortages, even in entry-level jobs. Ask any employer looking to fill manual labor jobs, and you will get a taste of the difficulty of even finding workers to apply. Few people already in the work force today will be affected by the hike to $6.15 phased in over three years proposed by the White House. They are already making far more than that.
On the other hand, a sweeping national rate increase will not help those in need of breaking into the work force, which today means primarily hard-case welfare recipients. When Congress voted in 1996 to "end welfare as we know it," it also imposed on the nation's governors an unprecedented burden in terms of getting people off welfare. Facilitating the creation of jobs that welfare recipients might enter as their first station in a productive working life ought to be a major consideration. Those jobs are impeded, not helped, by a higher minimum wage.
In an ideal world, the minimum wage would long since be a dead letter. In the actual world, however, there is an intelligent variation on the theme that at least would place these decisions in the hands of governors and state legislators. The key here is flexibility. According to Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, author of the State Flexibility plan, "It is time to look at the minimum wage differently in the post-welfare reform environment." The proposal, which close to 60 members have asked the House leadership to include in the minimum wage bill, will give states the option of adjusting the minimum wage to local conditions. Mr. DeMint's own state, for instance, still has 10 percent unemployment and a rate hike will surely be counterproductive.
State Flexibility will give states four options: Keep the current $5.15 an hour rate; raise it at the same pace as the federal rate; raise it more slowly; or raise it faster. As it is, 10 states already have a minimum wage higher than the federally mandated one. Add to that the fact that most Americans firmly believe close to home is where such decisions belong, and you surely have a winning idea.

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