Politics of Poverty

In the #CNBCGOPDebate, can we finally get candidates to say whether they’ll #RaiseTheWage?

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Word cloud generated from transcripts of the first four 2016 Republican Presidential Primary Debates highlights how little key economic issues including the minimum wage have come up in the debates. Source: Time.com, Washington Post.

We’re nearing the third GOP presidential debate, and despite overwhelming support from Republican voters we still have yet to hear the candidates’ views on raising the minimum wage. Let’s make sure they can’t avoid the question any longer.

At the next GOP Presidential Primary Debate, coming up next Wednesday evening on CNBC, every candidate should be asked to take a stand on this critical economic question, “Do you support gradually increasing the federal minimum wage in order to increase paychecks for hard working families and reduce reliance on taxpayer funded assistance?”

More than 8 hours, 330 questions, and 82,000 words later, debate watchers are still waiting to hear how most of the candidates in the GOP Presidential Primary plan to address the millions of Americans who put in an honest day’s work but bring home poverty-level wages. Despite the wide support among Republican early primary and caucus voters and general election voters of all political stripes for increasing the federal minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, according to recent polling from Oxfam and McLaughlin & Associates, the issue has yet to receive much airtime on the GOP debate stage.

So far less than one in every ten questions asked in the first debates addressed the economy, the top concern for voters of all stripes. Many GOP Presidential candidates have yet to even utter the word wages. Trying to finding “wage”, “paycheck”, “income”, or “worker” in the word cloud above generated from the initial debate transcripts is like a sadder, more challenging version of “Where’s Waldo?” Or perhaps “Where’s the Wages?” Moderators have asked each candidate, as President whose face they would put on the $10 bill and what their preferred Secret Service code name would be, but they have yet to ask all the candidates to explain what their economic plans mean for those working at or near the federal minimum wage and struggling to get by on as little as $300 a week.

Thankfully next Wednesday October 28th, we finally get a debate solely focused on the economy in Boulder, Colorado, hosted by CNBC. The “Your Money, Your Debate”, will be moderated by Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood, along with contributors Sharon Epperson, Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli. Still, the announcement of the debate raised concerns. In naming economic topic the debate would highlight, the press release included “the deficit”, “taxes”, “job growth”, and “Entrepreneurship”, but left “wages” noticeably absent.

Any debate about “your money” cannot be complete without discussing wages. Wages are the source of income for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and as a country we cannot discount the impact a poverty-level minimum wage in particular has on the personal finances of millions of working families. In fact, Oxfam found a stunning 41% of voters in states like Colorado – the debate host – and the most important 2016 swing states say a potential increase in the minimum wage would help their own or a family member’s finances in our poll. Among voters in swing states who say the economy is their top issue, 9 in 10 support at least one proposal to increase the federal minimum wage. Even three in four GOP voters in these critical states support policies increasing the federal minimum wage. In early nominating contests, the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, the majority of Republican likely voters support at least one proposal to increase the federal minimum wage.

Beyond growing voter support, more and more companies like the GAP, Walmart, and AETNA are raising wages for their lowest paid workers to strengthen their companies. Survey after survey show most small business owners agree, gradually raising the federal minimum wage is good for business, consumers and the economy. For deficit hawks, research shows how raising the minimum wage will help reduce the $153B in taxpayer money spent annually on means tested assistance like food stamps or Medicaid to working families caused by inadequate wages. Whether looking through the lens of business, politics, fiscal policy or just doing right by working families, its hard to see how supporting a reasonable increase in the minimum wage could not fit into the economic agenda of any Republican aiming to win the White House in 2016.

Still only three current candidates – Dr. Ben Carson, Governor John Kasich and Senator Rick Santorum – have suggested interest in raising the wage so far, while a fourth, Governor Chris Christie said he could consider a modest increase. It is notable that two of those candidates (Carson and Christie) only announced these positions in interviews with dogged questioning by CNBC debate moderator John Harwood.

If Harwood, and the rest of the CNBC team asked each of the candidates their position on a minimum wage increase, they would be forced to take a stand in front of millions of voters. The American people have waited long enough for their answer.

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