- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

Sen. John Kerry’s latest scheme to raise the quality of life for America’s poor is to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7 an hour. “Don’t you think as an American value of fairness that if a president can go out and fight for four years to provide over a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest people in America, we can fight for a few years to raise the minimum wage for the poorest people in America?” he asked. Mr. Kerry is long on rhetoric but short on substance. Set aside for a moment the fact that most of the “wealthiest people in America” are actually small-business owners, a point we made last week. Rather, let’s examine Mr. Kerry’s sweeping portrait of minimum-wage earners as the “poorest people in America.”

Of the 1.5 percent of the workforce that earns the minimum wage or below (about 2.1 million people), more than half are under age 25. More than 500,000 of them are between the ages of 16 and 19, which means that they likely live with a parent or relative, are in school and work part-time for extra pocket change. Many of the rest of them are in entry-level or temporary jobs, which means they likely will get raises in the future. (Indeed, a study of minimum-wage earners revealed that 63 percent saw their wages increase over a year.) As the Wall Street Journal notes: “Three-fifths are in the leisure and hospitality industry, which means in jobs that often come with tips in addition to wages.” Furthermore, unmarried workers are more likely to earn the minimum wage or less than their married counterparts. And finally, only 15 percent of those earning the minimum wage or below are lone earners with children.

Still, Mr. Kerry insists, “I’m running for president to build a stronger economy that lifts up families and expands opportunity for hard-working Americans.”

Instead of helping the poor, Mr. Kerry’s minimum-wage increase, along with his other economic plans, would kick many of them out of the job market. Only John Kerry could view that as championing the poor.

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