Thursday, December 18th, 2014

A look at claims about minimum wage

Protesters rallied for better wages at a Wendy's in Detroit on Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities were part of a push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Protesters rallied for better wages at a Wendy's in Detroit on Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities were part of a push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Increasingly, state Sen. Nikiya Harris is making a push to raise the minimum wage in Wisconsin.

In late November and early December 2013, the Milwaukee Democrat addressed the issue by appearing on the Milwaukee-based "Upfront with Mike Gousha" TV show, giving the weekly Democratic statewide radio address and issuing a news release.

Harris also planned a news conference for Dec. 10, 2013 to push the Republican-led Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor to hold a hearing on Senate Bill 4. The measure would raise Wisconsin’s minimum wage for adults from $7.25 an hour (last raised in 2009) to $7.60 an hour, and increase other minimum rates as well. It would also require the rates to be adjusted annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.

Any debate about raising the minimum wage, whether it be state or federal (also $7.25 and last raised in 2009), produces claims and counter-claims about the impact on employment, public assistance and the economy at large.

In December 2013, PolitiFact National did several factchecks on the minimum wage, so we thought we’d share them here, along with one from PolitiFact Rhode Island.

"About 2 percent of Americans get paid the minimum wage"

-- U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

Mostly True. It’s more accurate to say something like, according to official statistics, about 2 percent of American workers get paid at or below the federal minimum wage.

The priorities of more than three-quarters of Americans include raising the minimum wage

-- The Rev. Al Sharpton, MSNBC talk show host

Mostly False. The rating on this claim was affected by other "priorities" Sharpton cited. Several national polls indicate a solid majority of Americans supports raising the minimum wage, but the polls didn’t ask Americans whether raising the rate was a priority for them.

The minimum wage "in real terms" is lower now than under President Harry Truman

-- President Barack Obama

Half True. Adjusted for inflation, Obama’s claim is accurate for 1950, but incorrect for the other seven calendar years of Truman’s tenure. He was president from 1945 until January 1953.

"Since 1988, Congress has raised its own salary 15 times" but raised the minimum wage "only three times."

-- Facebook posts

Mostly False, PolitiFact Rhode Island determined. Congress has received 15 pay increases, but that’s thanks to an automatic formula it adopted in 1989. Congress has also approved seven increases in the minimum wage during that period, not three.

PolitiFact Wisconsin hasn’t done a recent minimum wage factcheck. But we did post one on a related topic -- wealth -- on Dec. 8, 2013:

The Wal-Mart Walton family "controls a fortune equal to the wealth of the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined."

-- Liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now

True. For comparison purposes, using the latest data available (2010), the figure is 41.5 percent. Six heirs of Sam Walton had a net worth of $89.5 billion.

To comment on this item, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.