If you oppose hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour—even based on the sound economic grounds that doing so would especially harm low-income workers in whose name the hike is justified—our progressive friends are likely to call you heartless.
Well, now comes Wikileaks, and, assuming these emails are what they purport to be, we now learn that some of our friends on the left are as fully aware as conservative economists of the perils of a $15 minimum wage hike. Hillary Clinton originally backed the “Raise the Wage Act,” introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-CA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), which would have raised the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, an increase of 66 percent. Pushed by the Bernie Sanders camp, Mrs. Clinton now says she looks forward to signing into law the more drastic $15 federal minimum wage hike. Indeed, the $15 minimum wage is now liberal orthodoxy–in public.
"Behind the scenes, it's been clear that much—maybe even most—of the liberal policy community is uncomfortable with the idea [of a hike to $15 an hour], even though many have refrained from public criticism," Peter Suderman of Reason writes, after perusing the Wikileaks emails. The Clinton campaign has not denied that the Wikileaks emails are legitimate, though campaign officials such as Jennifer Palmieri have made feckless attempts to distance themselves from them (Palmieri, for example, says she doesn't "recognize" an email she seems to have authored).
Of particular interest is an April 2015 email, spotted by the eagle-eyed Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner, from Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank with ties to the Obama administration, which also provided a perch for Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, while he was out of government. Tanden wrote to Podesta and three other high-ranking Clinton campaign officials: "Substantively, we have not supported $15 – you will get a fair number of liberal economists who will say it will lose jobs." One liberal economist who feared job loss was Alan Krueger, an Obama adviser, who wrote last year in the New York Times that research indicates that a $12 minimum wage would "do more good than harm for low-wage workers," while a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage "would put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences."
These findings echo earlier research, such as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014 projection that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour could kill as many as half a million jobs. They noted that most of those job losses would be among entry-level jobs. These jobs are the most important jobs there are since they allow low-skilled people to get on the first wrung of the job ladder and develop skills and habits that allow them to move to better jobs. The truth is that many of us aren't worth $15 an hour on our first day of work. We will be after developing skills, but many won’t get that opportunity when the minimum wage is set so high. As economist Thomas Sowell wrote of his own experience: "Life was tough when all I could get were low-paying jobs… But it would have been a lot tougher if I couldn't get any job at all. And a tough life made me go get some skills and knowledge."
Of course, this is standard fare among conservative economists. The news from the Wikileaks dump is not that minimum wage hikes cost jobs but that progressives probably know this, too, but find it politically expedient to advocate something that will help them get votes, while ultimately harming their constituents. Mrs. Clinton and other Democratic politicians, along with union leaders, continue to hail raising the minimum wage as a quick fix for poverty, ignoring the job losses we now know they know will happen as a result of their policies.
As Suderman summed it up, "But for Clinton, the potential loss of millions of American jobs is apparently a small price to pay when compared with her own political future."
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders doesn't have both a private and public position on issues. When asked about the potential for job loss triggered by minimum wage hikes during a Democratic primary debate, Senator Sanders bluntly replied, “Let me say this—you know, no public policy doesn’t have in some cases negative consequences." Now, that's heartless, folks.