Melissa Harris-Perry | June 10, 2012
>>> this monday marked the 100-year anniversary of the first minimum wage law enacted in the united states . in 1912 , massachusetts, the place where mitt romney used to be governor, but not in 1912 , it was the first state in the nation to standardize wages for women and children . this week, a group of liberal democrats in the house put forward legislation to immediately raise the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour. congressman jesse jackson jr . and others argued that increasing the minimum wage would go along way to stimulating the struggling economy by increasing the purchasing power by the millions of wage earners. no democrats have come out to support them. and any mandated wage increase would crush small business growth. here to discuss the possible first increase in the minimum wage in three years is small business owner joe alivo who owns a printing shop , originally owned by his parents we learned during the break. and anthea butler. and jesse jackson jr . joining us from chicago. congressman, i want to start with you. talk to me about why now? why at this moment would be need to, as you call it, catch up to 1968 ?
>> well, it should be clear that conservative economists and liberal economists have suggested that the number one problem with the american economy is aggregate demand . the american people are not spending, they are not buying with the moneys this they do have, enough items that keep our economy and begin to turn the wheels of our economy in a positive direction. and the only group since 2007 that has not experienced some form of pay increase have been those americans that are locked in the minimum wage , and why are they locked in the minimum wage ? because the congress of the united states has set the standard at $7.25. and so if congress, in fact, catches up to the 1968 purchasing power of wages in this country, in fact, the american people who earn $7.25 an hour should be earning, melissa, $11 an hour. but $10, a reasonable place to begin, president obama , when candidate obama in 2008 said that if he's president by 2011 , he wants to see the minimum wage raised to $9.50678 the question is not to bain or not to bain , with all due respect to william shakespea shakespeare, the question is to eat or not to eat.
>> the idea you point out, not just out of economists, that ordinary people need spending money in order to stimulate the economy, it was actually the great entrepreneur ford who said i want my workers to be able to buy their cars. joe , you're a small businessman. own a small business in new jersey, one started by your parents more than 30 years ago you were stelg me. what difference would it make if tomorrow the federal minimum wage went from $7.25 to $10.
>> as a small business owner, i'm in touch with my employees, i get to know their difficulties in life. my concern, the minimum wage , by setting an artificial minimum wage , it pushes up the entire wage scale. if i have somebody working with my company for three years and has more seniority and someone all of a sudden making close to what they have, it will have the affect of pushing up the entire wage scale and believe me, i would love to pay all of my employees more. i would love to pay them what a congressman makes, all of them. but market forces don't allow me to do that. i would be out of business in a week.
>> i'm not sure about the structure of how you pay benefits, if you didn't have the cost of health care -- i'm not asking to you support government-run health care , if there was health care that your employers were able to get and not carrying that burden, would you be able to associate with a higher wage?
>> everything has to be looked at in the context of what my competition is doing. it's very hard to say that with the taxes out there and the increasing regulation, i would be able to pay them anymore. really all subject to the market, and that's my concern it comes back to the mind pum wage increase, and subverting the market and creates a distortion.
>> it's interesting. we hear the two economics arguments, both from the congressman and from joe , our small business owner. but it felt like franklin roosevelt in the piece we saw earlier was making an ethical market, about americans setting a floor that at least allows someone who works full time to be able to afford an apartment, which these new data show us they can't.
>> they need a living wage and i can appreciate what are you going through in terms of being a small businessman, you have people who don't make enough to put food on the table. if you are saying, if you are going to make a minimum wage , you have to make a second job. you are not out in the workforce eight hours a day, you may be out there 14, 16 hours a day it decreases the quality of your life, your family's quality of life . where do people get this money from? it's a real issue of justice. if in three years we haven't brought that up from $7.25, i think it's high time we do it.
>> you obviously have both small business owners and people making minimum wage your constituents. how do you responsibility to these issues?
>> lets be clear. $7.25 is below the federal poverty line . millions of americans are working below the federal poverty line . at the end of a hard day 's, people can't keep up with the consumer price index . our legislation ties an immediate increase to $10 and future increases to the consumer price index so worker who's work every day will not find themselves in their same condition, and it's not an accident in our legislation that we recognize that raising it to $10 will force not only small business owners, but also large business owners, like walmart, that earn people a higher wage. the economy needs it right now and we can afford it.
>> joe , do you feel like you can afford it?
>> no. what the congressman isn't listening to is that the fact that increasing the minimum wage would cause me to look for a more efficient use of technology or equipment and possibly replacing the same type of workers he's trying to help. that's my concern, it actually will do harm to my employees.
>> the fact that -- it's hard to imagine in this economy and struggling as many americans are struggling that we'll actually make an argument that people who work 40 hours a week should permanently be in poverty, even though they are doing the best they can. mr. alvarez, in one of the articles written about our efforts, said for 20 years he has been working, and he has never earned more than $8.90 an hour. now, what kind of a just society would allow a man who worked 20 years of his life, and he can't get paid more than $8 an hour? remember this is not about artificially raising the wage. congress sets the standard and small businesses and large businesses, particularly workers that have no negotiating power with a small business owner, or no negotiating power with a large business owner , only congress can provide them the aggregate demand and purchasing hower they need.
>> there are obviously 18 states that are actually leading at this moment. you talk about congress setting the standard. at the moment, many western states , a few in the northeast and upper midwest , including illinois, where you represent, are actually doing better than the federal minimum wage , in part out of a recognition that these -- these employees literally cannot get an apartment, right? there was a time in america where one earner working a federal minimum wage could support a family, put your kids in public schools. feels like it's connected to the american dream , now it's just a below poverty wage, feels not only unjust, but not associated with our understanding of what the american dream should be.
>> that's why our argument is that the incremental approaches that have been offered by democrats has his fto forically historically supported. the reason we have stalled on ayes raising the wages of american people , congress, democrat and republican, too busy raising money to get re-elected to stop and give the rest of the american people the wages that they deserve. congress makes $84 an hour. it's time for working americans to earn $10 an hour. me lisa the billed is h.r. 5901, and i hope those who can hear my voice will call their representatives and get them to cosponsor. let's shift from bain or not to bain to it's time to eat or not to eat.
>> joe , particularly if this legislation moves forward, what would you ask for in terms of support or assistance as a small business owner?
>> i think i can do a better job without their help. as a small business owner, my deepest and darkest days were three years ago, when i had to layoff nine employees, due to the deteriorating economic conditions and there is nothing worse than calling in an employee, you know their family, you know the affects it's going to place on their family, of not being able to afford it continue to employ them, partly due to increased government mandates and taxes.
>> i'll give you the last word, congressman.
>> 17 tax breaks for small businesses since president obama has taken office. historically, the minimum wage has been tied to tax breaks for small businesses . they have gotten 17 of them. since 1 since 2007 , workers have not gotten an increase.
>> congressman, i appreciate as always your voice and voice for working folks. joe , i appreciate you so much. there are always two sides to this issue and i appreciate you being here to talk on this question. anthea, stay with me. we'll do good stuff. up next, we'll talk about hair. black hair to be specific. i promise you, this is a political question . y'all been asking. we'll answer. up next. every communications provider is