Minimum Wage Messaging Change: ‘Entry-Level’ Pay for Basics

Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

William D. Smart, Jr., pastor of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, right, protests with fast-food workers and supporters organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) inside of a Subway restaurant in Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2013.

In his last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged Congress to raise the minimum wage.

It didn’t, despite broad public support for the idea.

If you can’t win on the merits, change the messaging, says Leo Hindery, founder of InterMedia Partners LP, a private equity fund in New York. As Obama prepares for his next annual address on Tuesday, he should abandon the phrase “minimum wage” and instead press lawmakers to approve a higher “entry-level wage” that would allow all U.S. workers to afford basics such as food and shelter, Hindery says.

“Workers all over the country are being blamed for the manufacturing exodus, that their wages were too high,” Hindery says. Though there’s scant evidence that labor costs are driving companies offshore these days, he says, critics of raising the $7.25 hourly minimum still make the case, which resonates.

“They’ll argue that wages are too high,” Hindery says. “Make it an entry-level conversation, not a minimum wage conversation.’

Hindery and other corporate execs made the case for a higher minimum at a meeting yesterday with Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Employers who pay workers enough to live on effectively subsidize companies whose employees have to rely on government assistance to make ends meet, said David Bolotsky, founder of Uncommon Goods, a Brooklyn-based online retailer, who called himself a believer in self reliance with “GOP leanings.”

“If I’m paying a worker minimum wage, that worker is getting food stamps,” Bolotsky said. “The government has to play the role of being the guardrail.”

 

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