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SEIU pushing for 85% increase in minimum wage for Cleveland

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The $15 minimum wage fight in Cleveland has been touted as the “most aggressive” push in the country — and, unfortunately, it’s true.

“We won’t stop until we make poverty history by ensuring all workers have a path to $15 per hour and union rights, affordable child care, quality long-term care and we properly address racism, discrimination and injustice in our community,” Raise Up Cleveland, the group behind the push for the increase, declared.

The group, funded by the Service Employees International Union, garnered 28,000 signatures to submit the proposal to the Cleveland City Council.

To eradicate poverty, Cleveland needs a plan. The city’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in April, compared to a statewide rate of 5.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cincinnati and Columbus fare better with unemployment rates of 4.8 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

Raising the minimum wage, however, is more likely to spark job losses rather than an employment renaissance. The minimum wage in Ohio is $8.10; raising it to $15 in Cleveland would increase it by 85 percent.

“As proposed, the hike is the most aggressive minimum wage increase in the country,” Joe Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

A fact-check from Newsnet 5 in Cleveland found that to be true. The increase would be the highest in the Midwest and the most dramatic anywhere in percentage change. It’s also the most aggressive because the proposal would make the $15 wage effective by January 2017. The increase wouldn’t be gradual, but immediate.

Given that the average hourly wage in Cleveland for retail salespersons, home health aides, waiters and waitresses, and fast food cooks are all below $15, employers would face the undesirable choice between firing workers and increasing prices.

The dramatic increase would be a cautionary example of pushing a political goal in spite of economic reality. Driving labor costs higher don’t make it easier for employers to hire workers. A 2014 poll among employers found that more than half of them supported a $10 wage, but they balked at $15 — only 7 percent supported such a dramatic increase.

Employers can only absorb so much in labor costs and still produce a profit. As difficult as it is to support a family on the minimum wage, only 4.3 percent of workers earn the federal minimum wage, and roughly half of them are under 25 years old. Minimum wage jobs tend to be filled by young workers who gain experience and skills, then find a higher-paying job. For the working poor who have families to support, raising the minimum wage does little to improve their economic prospects. As Cleveland unions try to boost the minimum wage (and their union members), they threaten the economic growth of the region.

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