Despite being paid wages that are well below what’s required to even rent a place and being forced to go to work even when they’re very ill, workers are often not viewed as the most sympathetic group in conversations about labor issues like the minimum wage and paid sick leave. Instead, when discussing these policies, you can safely assume that at some point, someone will sympathetically bring up the plight of business owners.
Business owners—sorry, job creators—are persistently held up as the ultimate victims of changes to labor laws. They suffer from razor-thin margins, according to opponents, and they’ll surely be forced to shutter their stores for good if they’re required to pay their workers more. In just about every news story on the subject, you can expect to see at least one “local business owner” talking about what havoc it might create.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t definitely some business owners who are concerned, and many more who may have to make slight adjustments. But, despite the outward appearance of a united front in opposition to raising wages and providing sick leave, it seems that many business owners actually are neutral or outwardly support these policies.
According to watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy, a survey conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz has turned up widespread support of these matters among the very group of people that conservative lawmakers typically say they’re protecting when they pass laws like preemptions, which bar cities from opting to raise the wage within their limits.
The survey, which asked 1,000 business owners, found that just 8% of business owners actively oppose raising the minimum wage, and 9% oppose paid sick leave. Meanwhile, 30% “totally support” paid sick leave, while another 42% either “mostly” or “somewhat” support it.
David Merritt, the global director for LuntzGlobal, even admitted that the minimum wage is, in fact, pretty popular, noting in a webinar about the results that “it’s undeniable that they support the increase…And this is universal. If you’re fighting against a minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans, are okay with raising the minimum wage.”
These numbers confirm something that cities and states who have already raised their wages know from the anecdotes of business owners; more than a few CEOs have stepped forward to explain that the increase in disposable income among the lowest earners has bolstered their business. These numbers, though, are a little more concrete.
This puts the business community—and, specifically, chambers of commerce—in a bit of a pickle because, despite support from their community, they still seem to be rooted in the ideology that these kinds of policies are just objectively bad. That means they have to craft some clever messaging to ensure that the narrative of “business owners don’t like this” can remain intact.
“A winning argument is to put it up against other issues where it drops as a priority,” said Merritt in the webinar. “In isolation [the minimum wage] is definitely a winner.”
Even with this couching, though, it’s still popular policy; when a minimum wage increase was pitted directly against the earned income tax credit, a GOP favorite when talking about the minimum wage, “raising the wage won by a solid margin 54%-46%,” writes the Center.
That means that even the right’s favorite distraction from just paying people more—a tax credit that is narrow, small, and only benefits workers once a year—might not be working to sway people away from supporting wage increases. And honestly, it should surprise no one; California’s new minimum wage increase will give one in three workers in that state more money, right in their pocket. Additionally, in light of outrageous CEO pay and rising costs, it’s become apparent to most Americans that wages are simply too low.
Which forces the question: Who are minimum wage opponents really fighting on behalf of? At what point will GOP lawmakers and interest groups like the Chamber of Commerce actually start working for policies that represent the will of the people?
The voting body—on both sides of the aisle—supports improvements to our porous, patchy labor laws, which leave many Americans out in the cold. It’s time for the right to just concede defeat on that one and try to find some other way to keep the poor where they are.