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There Is Nothing "Moderate" About Opposing the Very Popular $15 Minimum Wage

In corporate media, it seems, the minority view that opposes a living wage can also be the "moderate" one—so long as it’s "pragmatically" courting business interests.

New York workers join the Fight for $15 National Day of Action in 2016. Striking fast food workers, supported by airport workers and community, march to McDonalds at 160 Broadway to protest unfair labor practices and risk arrest. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

New York workers join the Fight for $15 National Day of Action in 2016. Striking fast food workers, supported by airport workers and community, march to McDonalds at 160 Broadway to protest unfair labor practices and risk arrest. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As Democrats push to include a $15 federal minimum wage in the Covid stimulus package, many media reports have been giving the false impression that it’s an idea far outside the mainstream.

The Hill: Are progressives pushing the Democrats too far left to win?

CNN (2/21/21) labeled the $15 minimum wage a “controversial measure.”  The Hill(2/18/21) wrote, “The minimum wage increase is one of the most divisive parts of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.”

At the New York Times (2/21/21), Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to including the wage measure prompted this analysis:

Mr. Manchin’s position is also bolstered by a political reality that places moderate voters at the forefront—a fact that Mr. Biden’s White House is keenly aware of. For Democrats to maintain their House majority in the midterm elections next year, they must hold seats in Republican-drawn districts that are often populated by moderate suburban voters. In the Senate, where Democrats are seeking to expand their razor-thin control of the chamber in 2022, they must secure tough statewide victories in places like North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

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But however “moderate” such voters might be, they’re likely to support the measure. The latest polling (Quinnipiac, 1/28–2/1/21) finds 61% of the public backs a $15 minimum wage, with only 36% opposed. A 2019 Pew poll that broke support down by party and ideology found that even among Democrats (and independents who lean Democratic) who identify as moderate or conservative, a whopping 82% favor the wage hike, and that 59% of Republicans and Republican leaners who identify as moderate or liberal back it as well. On Election Day in Florida, where Trump won by 3 percentage points, voters also backed a $15 minimum wage ballot initiative by nearly 22 percentage points—which clearly undermines Manchin’s position rather than bolstering it.

LA Times: Biden, progressive Democrats heading toward clash over minimum wage and student loans

Yet terms like “moderate” (and similar journo favorite “pragmatic“) pepper reporting about the minimum wage hike to describe those who oppose it on both sides of the aisle. The LA Times (2/17/21), describing Biden “pumping the brakes” on keeping the minimum wage hike in the relief bill, labeled him a “pragmatist,” and explained that “some moderate Democratic senators have expressed concern about the wage hike.” At the New York Daily News (1/30/21), “pro-business GOP moderates oppose the hike.”

Yet for all the professed concern, $15 per hour wouldn’t even be a living wage in many parts of the country, as a CNBCreport (2/21/21) pointed out. A study by Dean Baker (CEPR, 1/21/20) noted that if the minimum wage had kept pace with gains in productivity—as it did from 1938 through 1968—it would today not be $15 an hour, but $24. In other words, it’s a policy that’s not just popular, it’s also hardly extreme.

In corporate media, it seems, the minority view that opposes a living wage can also be the “moderate” one—so long as it’s “pragmatically” courting business interests.

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the L.A. Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.

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