Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Two topics: Cultural change and raising the minimum wage

Cultural transformation is slow and very often quite difficult

August is notable for several reasons, among which is that it marks the end of summer for school children and the beginnings of football season, but more importantly because it was this month in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, at long last giving the right of the vote to all American women.

An article on Newspapers.com by Trevor Hammond gives the following information on this event: “Women’s suffrage in America was a divisive issue from the very beginning of the organized movement at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Over the ensuing 72 years, while women gradually won the right to vote in some state and local elections, they continued to fight for full suffrage. Eventually, the suffragists of the 19th century gave way to the ‘suffragettes’ of the 20th century, with their more confrontational tactics, influenced by the militant women’s suffrage movement in Britain.”

The organizers of the Senaca Falls Convention were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, and along with Susan B. Anthony they generated the effort that raised public awareness and lobbied the government to grant voting rights to women.

The next seven decades were marked by successes, failures, civil disobedience from those both pro and con, and finally Tennessee’s state legislature voted to ratify the amendment on August 18 after the 48-48 tie was broken when Rep. Harry Burn changed his mind, deciding to support the amendment at the behest of his mother. That made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Days later, on August 26, the vote became official when U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the document.

Today, we wonder at how it could have ever been that women did not have the same rights as men for many things, not just for voting. Some believe that this inequality was due simply to the fact that men deliberately kept women in subservient positions; they were misogynists and domineering louts. 

And, of course, through the ages there were and still are domineering louts among us. But that is not why it took so long for women to get the right to vote; men had their roles and women had theirs, for entirely different reasons, and it was like that for a long, long time.

Maybe that all started in the Garden of Eden, or with the first homo sapiens, whichever version you prefer, but the early gender roles were pre-determined not by what one gender or the other chose to do, but by the physical attributes of the two genders and the duties placed on each by the need to survive and procreate. Women were child bearers and nurturers, and men hunted and defended the home.

Cultural change is a slow, deliberate process.

* * * * *

The Effects of Raising the Minimum Wage

More clear thinking on the idea of a higher minimum wage comes from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, by way of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

Mr. Holtz-Eakin is a former economics professor and former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, and produced a piece for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research this past July, which NCPA recently highlighted.

He reminds readers of the economic reality that higher minimum wages will ultimately eliminate jobs and/or reduce employment growth, and can harm the very poor, who are the ones the higher minimum was intended to help.

Of the political drive to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to as high as $12 or $15 an hour, supported by the White House, Mr. Holtz-Eakin says, “While a minimum-wage hike would benefit millions of workers with higher earnings, it would also hurt millions of others who would lose earnings because they cannot attain or retain a job. Our estimates show that raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 would:
   * Affect 38.3 million low-wage workers.
   * Cost 3.8 million low-wage jobs.
   * Only 5.8 percent of the total income raise would go to low-wage workers who are actually in poverty.”

Focusing on the benefits of working, he notes, “it's important to keep in mind that work itself benefits those of modest means. In other words, [raising the minimum wage] is the reverse of Robin Hoodism: taking jobs and income from the poorest to give to those who are better off. The wealthy, whom demagogues now attack, would be untouched. The first job, even at relatively low pay, provides that first step on the ladder of upward mobility. Eliminating those rungs on the ladder threatens the future of workers who are starting out today.”

There are better ways to assist low-income Americans than raising the minimum wage to a level that ultimately hurts them more than it helps, he wrote, among which are the Earned Income Tax Credit, targeted wage supplements and a more effective public-education system that will assist low-income Americans and to make work pay, while not reducing job growth. “The poor cannot afford counterproductive initiatives advanced in their name but harmful to their lives.”

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