John Kostrzewa: Minimum wage hike is only the start

Providence Journal

Many Rhode Islanders who voted on Tuesday for anti-establishment candidates for president are angry about economic insecurity and income inequality. For too long, they’ve been working longer and harder for less.

One answer to relieve that economic anxiety has been “Fight for 15” — the drive to raise the minimum wage to $15 for low-end fast-food, retail and health-care workers.

Already, New York, California and several cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, have approved wage hikes to $15 in steps over several years for certain categories of workers.

While the “Fight for 15” has caught the attention of politicians under pressure and the public, hiking the minimum wage seems to be only a one-dimensional solution to the complex challenge of raising workers’ living standards.

Sure, a minimum-wage increase puts more money in people’s pockets and provides a little more cushion for families.

But it doesn’t fix the sorry state of public education, skills training and job creation that can lead to more long-term opportunities for economic gains.

And then there are the business arguments that raising the minimum wage too steeply and too quickly would actually hurt workers by making employers cut back hours, lay off workers or curb plans to add jobs to save money to meet the additional costs of higher wages.

With those thoughts in mind, I went to the Policy and Budget Conference last week hosted by the Economic Progress Institute, formerly called the Poverty Institute, which has long advocated for working people. I wanted to hear the group’s answers to the economic angst that continues to plague working Rhode Islanders.