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Konopacki minimum wage

Remember last year when a gaggle of University of Washington economists proclaimed that Seattle's new $15 minimum-wage law was creating all sorts of havoc with the local economy?

Their report contended that Seattle employers, now forced by law to pay minimum-wage employees 15 bucks an hour, had cut back the hours their workers worked, so instead of gaining wages they actually took a 6.6 percent cut.

Now a year later these same economists are backtracking. Actually, the minimum wage increases brought benefits to many workers employed when the higher pay took effect, while a relatively few were left worse off. The new study also shows that few experienced cutbacks in their hours as the anti-minimum-wage people predicted would happen.

You haven't heard a lot about the new findings because they fly in the face of what business organizations, chambers of commerce and conservative politicians consistently insist will be the result of increasing wages for the lowest-paid workers in America.

That's been the battle cry here in Wisconsin for years, explaining why the Badger State is still stuck with a $7.25 minimum wage while more than half the rest of America has seen fit to increase it. Some 29 states have already increased their minimums above the federal $7.25 mark and many of those have passed laws that gradually increase the pay to $15.

It's been amusing to watch Wisconsin jump through hoops to give manufacturing plants and big farmers multimillions in tax breaks and pump billions into subsidies for a massively profitable foreign corporation, not to mention toying with sending millions more to the Kimberly-Clark conglomerate, while refusing to help thousands of Wisconsin folks who are trying to pay their rent and feed their families on a minimum-wage job at $7.25 an hour.

If that doesn't provoke at least a tiny amount of shame among the leaders of the once-progressive state of Wisconsin, it certainly should bring some embarrassment.

But it seems that every time a group of legislators suggests it's time we give those on the bottom rung a break, our conservative friends go into action. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce hauls out its big guns and big war chests to predict Armageddon. Small restaurants will go broke and main street Wisconsin will decline, they argue.

And silly of you to suggest otherwise, but the real reason WMC and the other business lobbies oppose raising the minimum wage, at least according to them, is because of their long-held concern for the working people! Yeah, and we've got a bridge to sell you.

To bolster their points, they trot out a couple of University of Wisconsin economists — probably the same ones who still claim trickle down works — and they assure us that the minimum-wage worker will suffer, not gain, from a pay increase. In order to pay the increased wages, the employers will need to cut hours or jobs or both, they insist.

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One of WMC's favorite economists is Noah Williams at UW-Madison. He's been an ardent foe of increasing the minimum wage, which he claims will disproportionately affect young workers and muck up the free market.

But in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, even Williams had to admit that the $15-an-hour movement has caught on across the land, if not here in Wisconsin. It's been partly a response to the grim reality that wages for people in the bottom fifth of workers actually fell 0.98 percent from 1979 through 2016 when adjusted for inflation.

Still, those who run government in Wisconsin these days insist that even budging off $7.25 will hurt the state's economy. Funny, most of the states that have already hiked their wages haven't reported experiencing that kind of impact and now it turns out that the state of Washington, already at the $15 mark, hasn't either.

So as Wisconsin continues to take care of its upper class, those at the bottom end can go their merry way.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.