Santorum favors modest increase to minimum wage

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When CatholicVote endorsed Rick Santorum for President in 2008, libertarians and economic conservatives would recount all the votes Santorum had cast which violated strict free-market principles (like increases on the minimum wage.) No concessions were ever allowed for the fact that he represented the blue collar state of Pennsylvania.

So his latest interview with Chuck Todd where he backs another rise in the minimum wage (and says the Senate Republicans are unwise to offer no alternative) is sure to get libertarians and economic conservatives upset once again.

Santorum’s suggestion of keeping the minimum wage at the same historic level of the marketplace (7% of workers) seems reasonable, as that would limit the negative consequences of the minimum wage. (Unlike Seattle’s radical experiment of a $15/hour minimum wage.)

Economic conservatives and libertarians would likely note that any legislation which increases the cost of low-skill labor will almost surely increase unemployment — and this will disaffect the poorest of the poor (and disproportionately youth, blacks, and Hispanics.)

I don’t disagree with any of that. I think the minimum wage is one of the worst ways to help the working poor. Yes, the minimum wage will help some who remain on the job, but if the minimum wage is raised too fast it will do damage as businesses find alternative ways to provide services (like kiosks for ordering fast food).

I think the better and more immediate way to help the working poor would be to fix the payroll tax, which starts taxing everyone at their first dollar at 15.3%. Wouldn’t it help the working poor more if we applied the same personal and child exemptions and deductions that we do for income taxes on the payroll side as well? That way a family of four would only start paying that 15.3% payroll tax after they surpassed the $28,200 income threshold. (The employer pays half of the tax, the employee pays half. But this is an accounting gimmick as any tax on payroll increases the cost of hiring a worker.)

And I think it’s important to advance proposals similar to this as a better way to help the working poor. But that said, we should not give Rick Santorum (or other Republicans from blue states) a scarlet letter for supporting a modest increase to the minimum wage.

Santorum understands the arguments against the minimum wage. But he also understands that we live in a representative republic. As Santorum noted, a supermajority of Americans support the minimum wage. Unlike abortion or marriage, support for a minimum wage is not a violation of Catholic teaching. (In fact, you’re far more likely to find Catholic teaching which would be supportive of it.) So attacking a politician who votes for the minimum wage (which has 76% approval) is bit foolish.

This isn’t to say that I support a possible Rick Santorum presidential campaign in 2016. (I’m partial to Pence, actually.) I’m just saying that until the American people have a better understanding of the economics of how the minimum wage can be counterproductive, a candidate’s support for a modest minimum wage should not be a mark against him.

The current minimum wage is $7.25/hour. Harry Reid and Senate Democrats want to raise it to $10.10/hour — nearly a 40% increase. I certainly think that would be harmful — as it would cause serious job losses. I would suggest a more modest increase to $8.00 and I’d also tie it to inflation, so that it doesn’t become a political football ever four years. As a concession for adjusting it to inflation, Republicans could demand that the $1,000 per child tax credit also get inflation-adjusted increases every year.

And let’s all keep an eye on Seattle.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Joshua Mercer is a co-founder of CatholicVote.org, where he serves as Political Director. Mercer is also regular contributor with Catholic Pulse. Mercer previously served as Washington Correspondent for the National Catholic Register and Chairman for Students for Life of America. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.

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