The fight to raise the minimum wage has become a central theme in the political discourse surrounding the upcoming 2016 election, and with good reason. The minimum wage has been stagnant for decades as the cost of living has grown and the wealth concentrated in the top 0.1% of Americans has utterly failed to trickle, or even drip, down. Democratic presidential candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all called for significant increases in the minimum wage, but the great majority of Republican politicians resist any change that would threaten the profit lines of their corporate overlords, preferring instead to force people onto welfare and effectively have the government subsidize the greed of big business.
The hypocrisy of the right-wing on the minimum wage issue was highlighted this week when Tea Party darling Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) appeared on a radio talk show called the Devil’s Advocate, where he was asked about $10 million he received in “deferred compensation” from a plastics company, PACUR LLC, that he received from his father-in law before he was sworn in and has paid no state income taxes in a decade. That ten million dollars was a sum that he himself decided was an appropriate amount. He had just spent $9 million in his own money to win his election, and the timing of the two transfers was questionable enough for state Democrats to file complaints with the FEC. His time as CEO included no salary but earned millions in income from capital gains, corporate earnings and real estate- until now. “You know, $700,000 in the scheme of things — and of course it’s all relative — is a pretty reasonable compensation level. So again, the people attacking me are completely off-base, they’re totally wrong” said Johnson.
Johnson has been vocal about his opposition to the entire idea of a federal minimum wage. He argues that “when you’re a good worker, you don’t stay at minimum wage for long,” implying that the 4.3% of American workers who earn the minimum wage are lazy and have failed at their occupations, when the reality is the benefits of keeping wages stagnant are greatly beneficial to their employers, for obvious reasons. He also has been trumpeting debunked talking points inferring that increased minimum wages lead to job losses, even though “research by the Fiscal Policy Institute and others showed that states that raised their minimum wages above the federal level experienced better employment and small business trends than states that did not.”
His Democratic challenger in the upcoming election, Russ Feingold, sharply disagrees with Johnson’s position. “To me, this is fundamental. Low wages mean increased reliance on assistance programs, and less purchasing power for customers to buy needed goods and services locally. A living wage means being able to put healthy food on the table for your family” says Feingold. The Huffington Post reported that “Wisconsin currently has a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That means a minimum-wage worker takes home just $15,080 before taxes. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, the median household income in Wisconsin is $52,413.”
It is absolutely reprehensible that a legislator who can use his own business as a private expense account and throw around millions of dollars to further his political ambitions would oppose common-sense legislation that would help countless numbers of his constituents support their families and live with stability and financial security. Johnson is just another plutocrat working to keep the working class perpetually downtrodden and exploitable and to continue funneling America’s wealth to the top.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.