In the presidential debate last Thursday, moderator Kristen Welker asked former Vice-President Joe Biden if it was the “right time” to ask “struggling small businesses” to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It was a good question and each of the candidates’ responses said a lot about how they view government’s role in our economy.
Demonstrating that the government clearly has an important role to play in a national crisis, Republicans and Democrats came together early in the pandemic and passed the CARES Act. It included the Paycheck Protection Program which provided financial assistance to small businesses so they could keep their employees on their payrolls. It wisely did nothing to increase the costs of retaining those employees as it makes no sense to aid businesses on the cusp of failure and simultaneously increase the costs of their staying in business.
Biden seems to have missed that point. He told Welker that he was in favor of increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 but that “the government is going to have help small businesses by bailing them out.” So, Biden would add to the problems small businesses are facing during the pandemic by increasing their labor costs and then provide government dollars to solve that problem, assuming he could reach agreement on a bailout package with a dysfunctional Congress.
It apparently didn’t occur to Biden that the government could simply avoid the problem by not creating it in the first place. Perhaps that was understandable given that Biden has spent his entire professional career in government.
As someone who spent his entire career in business, President Trump understandably seemed surprised by Biden’s response. He asked Biden “how are you helping your small businesses when you're forcing wages? What's going to happen and what's been proven to happen is when you do that these small businesses fire many of their employees.”
Well, of course they do.
In 2019, even before small businesses were closing due to the pandemic’s economic shutdowns, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that a $15 minimum wage would result in 1.3 million fewer workers being employed. The CBO also forecast that a $15 minimum wage would reduce business income, increase consumer prices, and slow the economy.
Seriously, does that sound like something we should be doing in a recession when, as Biden noted on the debate stage, “one in six” small businesses are already “going under.”
More recently, the non-profit Employment Policy Institute published a report by Dr. David MacPherson, professor at Trinity University, and Dr. William Even, professor at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, examining the impact of a $15 minimum wage in light of factors such as coronavirus unemployment and state economic shutdowns. They estimated that 2 million workers would lose their jobs.
The president is not opposed to any minimum wage. He supports each state addressing the issue as its economic circumstances dictate rather than a one size fits all federal mandate. That makes sense as states have different economic advantages and disadvantages that a federal minimum wage ignores by its very nature. As the president noted, “Alabama is different than New York.”
The president also acknowledged being open to the possibility of increasing the federal minimum wage, “but not to the level it puts the businesses out of business.” Biden responded by claiming that “there's no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage businesses go out of business.”
And there you have it.
Biden has spent his entire working life in government which, unlike private sector businesses, does not have make a profit to survive. It can simply use taxpayer dollars to cover overspending and errors in judgment. Perhaps this is why Biden seems oblivious to the fact that increasing labor costs would result in fewer businesses being able to keep their doors open. You don’t need a study to prove it. You just need a basic understanding of how businesses operate. It’s an understanding the former vice-president simply lacks.
In that respect, the minimum wage debate highlighted the fact that only one person on the debate stage had ever run a business, created a job or signed the front side of a paycheck, and it clearly was not the former vice-president.