Does God Back Minimum-Wage Laws?

By Hans Bader | August 5, 2019 | 3:00pm EDT
South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Does God want people to lose their jobs? Seventy-two percent of economists oppose a high $15 minimum wage, because it would wipe out too many jobs and result in many employers restricting their employees’ work hours.

But liberal South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently implied that God supports a $15 minimum wage. He did so even though he pays many of his own city employees far less than that.

As the National Review notes, Buttigieg tried “to score some cheap points by suggesting that God wants” a $15 minimum wage. Mayor Pete said that “so-called conservative Christian senators right now in the Senate are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage” to $15, “when scripture says, ‘Whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.’” The bill Buttigieg “referred to is the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. It also would eliminate the exemption for tipped positions, gradually raising the minimum wage for wait staff by 560 percent.”

In short, Buttigieg argues that “not paying at least a $15 hourly wage is anti-Christian and a cruel act of oppression.”

Ironically, the City of South Bend, which Buttigieg runs, pays many of its employees less than $15 an hour. As the National Review observes, the “city’s own website advertises numerous positions at pay rates below $15 an hour,” such as offering $10.10 per hour to people employed as “maintenance worker” or “golf course player assistant,” and $12 to laborers.

In the past, Buttigieg had boasted “about paying his own employees $10.10 an hour,” according to National Review, as if it were a good, adequate wage. Yet now, he declares that anything short of $15 an hour “oppresses the poor” in the eyes of the Lord.

As the National Review points out, Buttigieg’s claims lack both scriptural and logical support: “Nothing in the Bible dictates that Christians pay their employees whatever wage is arbitrarily chosen by politicians eager for votes.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that a $15 minimum wage would eliminate a substantial number of jobs, and actually “reduce real family income” nationally as employers reduce employees’ work hours. Senator Bernie Sanders recently had to restrict his employees’ work hours in order to afford paying them a $15 minimum wage.

Economists estimate that in a single state — California — a $15 minimum wage will eventually wipe out 700,000 jobs. Jobs are already being lost in New York and Illinois due to their recent state laws gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15.

$15 may seem like a modest wage for an employer to pay — especially if you live in an expensive city or suburb. But there are parts of the country where living costs are very low, with low average wages to match — where the median wage is less than $15 and a middle-class couple each making $12 per hour can raise a family. It is wrong to ban employers in such areas from providing people with $12 an hour jobs, when such employers can’t afford to pay $15 per hour, and the choice is between a job at $12 per hour, and no job at $15 per hour.

There are many low-cost areas where a couple each making $12 per hour can afford a perfectly good middle class lifestyle, making a wage well under $15 a “living wage.” For example, the state of Mississippi has a median wage below $15. Yet most people in Mississippi own their own home, have plenty to eat, and have access to medical care when they need it. There are inexpensive regions in many states — even wealthy states like Maryland and Virginia — where the typical wage is below $15 per hour, yet most people lead middle-class lives. The median household income in Buchanan County, Virginia, is $31,800, which could include a hypothetical married couple each making $8 per hour. The median hourly wage in the county is way under $15 per hour, yet most people there own their own home and few if any go hungry. A home there costs only a little over a tenth what a home costs in more expensive areas of Virginia, like Arlington County. Maryland’s Somerset County has a median hourly wage of well under $15 per hour.

A $15 minimum wage would bankrupt many employers in these places, leading to them laying off their employees. Most employers in these areas — especially small businesses — can’t raise wages a lot, without going broke. Even corporations have an average profit margin of only 7.9 percent. Small businesses often have smaller profit margins still (especially in retail), meaning their profit will be entirely wiped out if they raise wages by a couple dollars.

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by Liberty Unyielding and was reprinted with permission from the author.

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