So the standard Republican response to any Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage is that if we really want to help working people, government should focus instead on creating jobs. “I do not think this idea will create one additional job,” Senator Janéa Holmquist Newbry (R-Moses Lake) told the Seattle Times about the House Democratic bill to raise Washington State's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2017. Which is weird. Because because Republicans usually argue pretty strenuously that government isn't any good at creating jobs. That's the job of the private sector, they say.
I suppose Republicans might counter with proposals to cut taxes and slash regulations as a sorta supply-side stimulus package—because if only the very rich were just a little bit very richer, they'd start spending their fortunes creating more jobs, or something. But Republicans don't really have much else to offer in response to minimum wage hike proposals—nothing constructive, at least—other than accusing the working poor of being worthless and/or lazy, and warning that a higher minimum wage will destroy small businesses and cost us jobs.
Of course a higher minimum wage would cost some jobs—better paid workers are more loyal, healthy, and productive, and so some businesses would need fewer employees to achieve the same output. And I don't doubt that some businesses really would curb hiring out of fear or confusion or spite, while for other businesses it simply might take a little time for them to figure out how to deal with higher labor costs. I also suppose that there are some business models absolutely predicated on paying poverty wages; those jobs might be permanently lost.
But a higher minimum wage would also create jobs. More money in the pockets of those who need it most means more money being spent on goods and services. Even Walmart, the king of low wages, has unselfconsciously complained about how stagnant incomes have hurt its bottom line. So think of a minimum wage hike as a demand-side stimulus package. More demand will spur businesses to increase supply, and that means more hiring. It's basic economics, and at least as reasonable as the supply-side gospel that has dominated public policy for the past few decades.
And regardless of job creation, there is little debate that a higher minimum wage would reduce poverty rates. There might very well be some losers, but overall poverty rates would decline.
But there's one more advantage to a higher wage floor that I don't see much discussed, and that is that higher wages would more equitably distribute the jobs that are already available. Think about it. Wages are so low, that many low-wage workers need to take on second jobs just to scrape by. Forty hours a week (if you can get it) simply isn't enough to pay the bills. And then there are the many two-income families where one parent might choose to cut back their hours to better care for the kids if that was economically feasible.
Most people don't take a second job because they want to. They do it because they absolutely need too.
A livable minimum wage would mean fewer minimum wage workers holding more than one job, which would mean more jobs available to other minimum wage workers! You know, less unemployment. And as the demand for second jobs decreases, the labor market will tighten, spurring employers to offer even higher wages. Which means more money in the pockets of consumers. Which means more spending. And more jobs. It's a virtuous demand-side cycle.
A humane economy would not force the working poor to work 60 to 80 hours a week just to feed and clothe their children. And neither would a functional economy.