Legislatures Begin Addressing Economic Inequality – Social Justice or Political Strategy?

Minimum wage cartoon

Income inequality has been a major focus recently in the political arena. On Wednesday Senate Republicans voted to reject bringing a bill to the floor for debate that would have increased the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, up from $7.25 currently. While disappointing to some folks, this vote was not a surprise, as many are calling it political showmanship by Congressional Democrats who are trying to vilify Republicans during a mid-term election year. Not for nothing, but the GOP doesn’t seem to be doing themselves any favors either, so far they have voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and against reforming mine safety laws, all in the same month!

Regardless of the political strategy behind the failed legislative efforts, some of the proposed bills that have been coming out in recent weeks, I believe, would really benefit the American workforce. While a hike in the minimum wage on the federal level didn’t occur yesterday, you don’t need to look too far to see that the winds of change are upon us. Many state and local legislatures have enacted their own minimum wage laws that have raised minimum wage rates in their localities anywhere between from $8.50 an hour to $11.50 an hour. A minimum-wage hike at the federal level is inevitable and likely to happen sooner rather than later. If you’re a business owner that employs minimum wage workers, I would recommend you begin to set aside a reserve fund that will help you offset the increased cost of labor when it comes.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was another legislative failure that left me wondering: “Why do Republicans seemingly want to shoot themselves in the foot?” Sure, the GOP argued that the law would have increased civil lawsuits, and is unnecessary since gender discrimination is already illegal. Keeping the latter point in mind and that most companies already operate with pay structures for their positions which allow for their hiring managers to be able to make competitive offers (in their respective markets) to candidates based off of their experience, education, and other relative factors, the “increase in civil lawsuits” argument seems like just a plain cop out to me. Instead of voting for legislation would have helped their image among the female electorate, they chose to go in a different direction.

Another interesting piece of legislation came out of California last week; a committee there voted 5 to 2 to bring SB1372 to the full [State] Senate for a vote. The bill would lower the state corporate taxes for companies with lower ratios between their chief executive’s pay and their median workers pay. The bill also proposes raising state taxes for those corporations with higher pay ratios between their chief executives and their median workers. This bill seems to be the first of its kind in addressing economic inequality through corporate tax reform. Although, there is a slim chance that the bill will pass the State Senate, I am curious to see how much traction it actually gets.

Needless to say, economic inequality is a hot topic right now across the country and will likely remain so (at least through November). While the timing before a midterm election seems to be very convenient to begin to address some of the social issues we are facing, who cares?! The important fact is that it’s being addressed, my only gripe is that it’s not happening quick enough: while our elected officials play politics, other low income Americans continue to struggle day after day. I have many conservative friends that I’m sure would disagree with my point of view, so I would love to hear your thoughts either for or against some of the bills that we are seeing come up, leave a comment!

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