Minimum Wage Messaging


By margins higher than 2-to-1, Americans support raising the minimum wage. This cause is both great politics and great policy. Every progressive should embrace the issue.

Generally, persuadable voters earn more than the minimum wage. So you need to show them that they indirectly benefit from an increase in the minimum wage and that the people receiving direct benefits are deserving.

Say . . .

America is supposed to be a land of opportunity, where hard work is rewarded. But today’s minimum wage is not enough for a family to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage provides hard-working Americans with income to spend on the basics they need. This, in turn, generates business for our economy and eases the burden on taxpayer-funded services. It’s a win-win. Raising the minimum wage helps build an economy that works for everyone, not just the richest one percent. 

Why . . .

Many progressive advocates want to start with facts and figures. Please don’t. Most Americans are already on our side so take this opportunity to show how the policy they already understand and favor is based on your progressive values. 

Here are the key arguments to make. An increased minimum wage:

  • Rewards work—raising the minimum wage shows that we value hard work over ”welfare;”
  • Boosts the economy—the public already believes this, so say it loudly;
  • Saves taxpayer money—if families make a decent wage, it diminishes the need for government benefits; and
  • Promotes fairness—people remain quite angry about CEO pay and the unfairness that pervades today’s economy; workers deserve a fair share.

There is also some language to avoid. Don’t make the minimum wage about alleviating poverty. The reality is that persuadable voters will default to negative stereotypes they hold about people in poverty: they shouldn’t have taken such a lousy job, they should have gotten an education, they’re lazy or unreliable or did something that got themselves into the situation. So it is particularly important to frame the minimum wage as good for the entire economy, or “all of us.” 

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Help the poor

The working poor

An economy that works for all of us

An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work 

Why . . .

By all means you can say, as President Obama does, that “in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” And it would be hard to testify on the minimum wage before a legislative committee without mentioning the federal poverty level. But when you’re talking to average voters, avoid referring to beneficiaries in ways that evoke a “welfare” frame. 

Right-wing argument: The free market takes care of wages.

Say . . .

Minimum wage workers earn less than $300 a week. No matter where you live, that’s just not enough money to make ends meet. This is about people who show up every day and work hard so their employer can make a profit. At the very least, they deserve to be able to pay their bills. 

Why . . .

An individual who works full-time at the current $7.25/hour federal minimum wage earns $14,500 a year (for 50 weeks)—which is below the poverty level for a family of two or more. Congress last raised the minimum wage in 2007. The minimum wage in 1968, if adjusted for inflation, would be $10.75 today; so raising it to $10 would be modest by historical standards.

Right-wing argument: The minimum wage affects only a tiny percentage of workers.

Say . . .

Actually, an increase to $10 an hour would improve pay for about one in four private sector workers in the United States. And it would benefit everyone else by putting money back into local businesses and getting our economy moving again. 

Why . . .

A $10/hour minimum wage would directly boost the wages of about 17 million workers. In addition, because of a “spillover effect”—that increasing everyone below $10/hour would indirectly boost the pay of workers who earn between $10 and $11/hour—the minimum wage increase would benefit 11 million more. 

Right-wing argument: Raising the minimum wage will cost jobs.

Say . . .

First, hard-working people in our community deserve a wage that pays the rent and puts food on the table. But also, it will not reduce the number of jobs available. Over the past few years, many states have increased their minimum wage far higher than neighboring states, and economists have been able to study what happens to jobs in the state with the higher wage in comparison to its neighbors. According to seven Nobel Prize-winning economists, “increases in the minimum wage had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers.” 

Right-wing argument: Minimum wage workers are mostly teenagers anyway. 

Say . . .

More than 84 percent of those who benefit are older workers. Less than 16 percent are teenagers. But the point is, anyone who works hard every day deserves to make a living. 

Right-wing argument: Tipped workers are already paid enough. They don’t need a raise. 

Say . . .

The federal minimum wage for tipped employees like waiters is only $2.13 an hour and that minimum has not increased since 1991. Very few waiters make a good living on tips. Instead, the poverty rate for tipped workers is more than double the rate for other employees. Raising the tipped minimum wage does not hurt restaurants. In fact, seven states—including California, Minnesota, Nevada and Washington—have the same minimum wage for tipped workers as they have for everyone else, and the restaurants in those states are thriving. Everyone who works hard deserves to make a living. 


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