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Word Choices: Re-Labeling the Minimum Wage

Sharon Harris Comments

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(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 8 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Word ChoicePolitical word choice and labels are vitally important, and I’m always looking for new, more effective political wording. As I’ve noted in past columns, the name of a political proposal can often play a major role in whether it is accepted or rejected by the public and by your listeners.

The rebranding of the estate tax as the Death Tax is one of the most successful such examples. Similarly, the branding of government control of the Internet as “Net Neutrality” led to widespread support for this unfortunate idea.

That’s why I was pleased with some new labels and ways of discussing the minimum wage from economist Mark Perry, who writes the excellent blog Carpe Diem.

The minimum wage is one of the most pernicious economic ideas. It harms the very people it claims to help: the poor, the disadvantaged, the unskilled, the young. It tears out the bottom rung of the ladder to success. It has destroyed, by some estimates, millions of viable jobs in the U.S., including whole categories of jobs that, because of the minimum wage, were suddenly no longer viable.

Perry writes: “Words matter, and the terms ‘raising the minimum wage’ or ‘passing a living wage’ are easy to embrace because they sound so positive and well-meaning; but only because those terms only emphasize the potential, positive effects for some workers, while largely ignoring the potential, and very real, negative effects on small businesses, retailers and employers who bear the burden of the government mandate, and the inevitable adverse effects on workers who lose their jobs (or have their hours and benefits cut), or are unable to find a job at the ‘living wage.’ …

“Here’s a thought experiment: Ask people: a) if they would support a ‘$15,500 annual tax’ on small businesses, retailers, restaurants and employers for each full-time, entry-level worker employed, and alternatively b) if they would support a $15 per hour ‘living wage.’

“I’m pretty sure that at least some people who say they support a $15 per hour living wage would be slightly less enthusiastic about imposing a $15,500 per year ’employer tax’ on small businesses, retailers and restaurants, even though those two proposals are roughly equivalent. …

“Let’s be very clear — going from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to a new $15 per hour minimum/living wage is equivalent to a $15,500 annual ‘tax’ (closer to $16,800 with additional payroll taxes) on employers for each full-time, minimum wage employee. …

“So I say to minimum wage advocates: would replacing the term ‘increase the minimum/living wage to $15 per hour’ with the equivalent term ‘raise the cost to businesses who employ or hire entry level workers by $15,500 per year ($16,800 with payroll taxes) for every full-time, entry-level employee’ curb your enthusiasm at all about government-mandated wage increases?”

There are some great ideas here. When discussing the minimum wage, try some of Perry’s suggestions:

* Instead of using the phrase “an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 (or $15) per hour” express your concern about “imposing a $2.85 (or $7.75) per hour, per employee, tax on employers who employ or hire unskilled workers. Won’t that discourage employers from hiring the very people who most need these jobs? Why should we punish employers who are offering entry-level jobs to low-skilled unemployed workers?”

* Instead of using the term “minimum wage,” try calling it “the $15,500 annual tax on small businesses, retailers, restaurants and employers for each full-time, entry-level worker they employ.”

* Instead of “minimum wage,” try calling it “the $2.85 (or whatever sum applies) per hour, per employee, tax on employers who employ or hire unskilled workers.”

* Instead of “minimum wage,” try calling it “the government-mandated wage floor for unskilled, jobless workers.”

* Instead of “minimum wage,” try calling it ” the government-mandated wage floor that guarantees reduced employment opportunities for America’s teenagers and low-skilled workers, especially minorities.”

Now that you’ve got the idea, try working these phrases into your own wordings and style. You may find it easier to open minds to the true nature of the minimum wage law.

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