Republicans led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, killed Tuesday a Democratic effort to raise the minimum wage by $1 an hour by 2000.
The Senate voted 55-44 along party lines to scrap legislation by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., that would have raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15 via two 50-cent increments in 1999 and 2000.Kennedy argued the increase is needed because the current minimum wage is not high enough to keep heads of households who earn it out of poverty - unless they work two or three jobs.
But Hatch, who led the Republican opposition, countered that such an increase would destroy many minimum-wage jobs because employers could no longer afford them and would simply cut them.
Hatch complained that Kennedy and allies contend "a minimum wage hike is costless, and they believe that it has no adverse impact. I can only wonder then why they have not offered an amendment raising the minimum wage to $15, $20 or $30 an hour."
Hatch - who said Democrats were pushing a wage hike only to curry election-year favor with organized labor - said a 1981 Minimum Wage Commission study figured that for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, between 100,000 and 300,000 jobs are lost in the country.
So he said the 19.4 percent increased proposed by Kennedy would cost about 200,000 entry-level jobs. Kennedy, however, said he doubts that because unemployment levels actually fell after recent minimum wage hikes that came during strong economies.
Hatch also said only about one-fifth of minimum wage earners are heads of households - but they may be more at risk of losing jobs cut by a forced minimum-wage hike than would teenagers or spouses working for an extra income.
Hatch said suburban residents are less likely to lose a minimum wage job than "a new immigrant still learning a new language," "the young woman just out of a drug rehabilitation program" or "a young man recently paroled from prison."
Even among just teenagers, Hatch said studies shows "the probability that a black or Hispanic teenager will be displaced is five times greater than for the general population of teenagers."
Hatch - who once worked as a janitor for 65 cents an hour - also said it's a "great myth" that "everyone currently earning the minimum wage gets stuck in a minimum-wage job. The fact is that people cycle through these jobs regularly. . . . They move on and up."
Kennedy has vowed to try continually this year to attach the wage hike to other legislation, saying it is a top priority of Democrats and the Clinton administration.
Congress last voted to hike the minimum wage in 1996 when Kennedy and the Clinton administration - in a different political atmosphere without the Monica Lewinsky scandal - nearly halted Senate action until an increase was finally adopted.