Washington Post Editorial Board Pegs Minimum Wage to 1959 Living Standards

A stunning reminder that elite opinion is far from where it needs to be on wages is a Washington Post editorial from last month recommending a minimum wage of just $8.00 in 2015, up from the $7.25 level set in 2009. The Post’s editorial board, in fact, argued that a full-time, full-year worker should earn an income that is two-thirds of the poverty line for a family of four—a level set in 1959. The poverty line, however, is fixed only by inflation and does not reflect any general improvements in overall living standard. So, while economic productivity has more than doubled since 1959 (it rose 150 percent in fact), what we consider a poverty income has remained the same. In effect, the Washington Post’s editorial board is saying a low-wage worker should earn one-third less than a poverty-level income based on living standards two-thirds of a century earlier. Note that $8.00 in 2015 is a wage roughly nine percent less (inflation-adjusted) than what a low-wage worker (at 10th percentile) earned in 1973, despite the fact that low wage workers are far more educated and productive now than then.