Voters Make Work More Rewarding
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Work just got a little more rewarding in Arizona, Montana, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and -- according to CNN projections -- Colorado. Voters in these states just approved increases in their minimum wages -- from $5.15 an hour all the way up to $6.85 an hour in Ohio. The six new states join the enlightened 18 that had already raised their minimum wages, for a total of 24 states where it's beginning to be worthwhile to get up and go to work in the morning.
I'm especially proud of my home state, Montana, which a decade ago was best known for its white supremacist militias. I feel like the Abe Lincoln character in the Rozerem ad: "Welcome back," I want to say, "We missed you." Except that the Montanans aren't falling asleep -- they're waking up from their weird, scary, claustrophobic dream.
If the U.S. electorate was as heavily skewed toward the upper middle class this time as it has been in recent years, many of the people who voted to raise their states' minimum wages were not in a position to benefit directly. In fact, some of them may end up paying a little more for their landscapers and restaurant meals. In other words, these voters saw the minimum wage as a moral or "values" issue. They decided that restaurant meals don't taste all that good when they're served by people who have trouble feeding themselves.
In Colorado, the group opposed to raising the minimum wage -- Stop42--tried to seize the moral high ground for itself, with an ad depicting God Himself warning against an increase. The ad shows a Santa-like Moses addressing the Big Guy:
MOSES: We need divine intervention. They want to chisel Amendment 42 into Colorado's constitution where it doesn't belong.
GOD: What on earth are you talking about?
MOSES: An annual minimum wage increase in stone for eternity!
GOD: When inflation and recession come, it will be a catastrophe!
MOSES: It's a plague we'll face every year.
GOD: We can't let the people make this mistake. Go. Spread the word. Vote no on 42!
It's odd that God, for all His omniscience, hadn't noticed that the states that already had higher minimum wages haven't yet plunged into "inflation and recession." Or that the 1997 hike in the federal minimum wage wasn't followed by nationwide economic calamity. It's stranger still that the deity would choose to weigh in on the side of the Colorado Restaurant Association and against the poor and downtrodden.
Two weeks ago, in San Francisco, I attended a conference of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in California (CLUE for short.) The hundred or so assembled ministers, priests, rabbis and imams probably didn't agree on a lot of issues, like abortion rights, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, or the divinity of Jesus. But they were solidly united on one thing: The moral responsibility of all citizens to improve the lot of the down-and-out. This week's vote shows that the word is getting out.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, most recently "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."