For those who are fed up with despairing about the Republicans’ obstructionist stranglehold on congress, I suggest reading Taylor Malmsheimer’s “The Future of Minimum Wage Will Be Decided in Cities” at The New Republic. It’s a little tonic for progressives who may be wallowing in mid-summer political doldrums. Have a swig:
In June, the City Council of Seattle made headlines when it voted unanimously to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest in the country. While Seattle wasn’t the first city to take minimum wage legislation into it’s own hands, it seems to be at the forefront of a national trend toward significant minimum wage hikes at the local level. In just over a year, at least six other cities and counties have mandated minimum wages as high as $15, and several more have legislation in the works.
In 2003, Santa Fe and San Francisco became the first cities to institute their own minimum wages, distinct from their states–and it wasn’t without opposition. Each city faced significant resistance from the business community: In San Francisco, organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Realtors campaigned against the ballot proposition, arguing that it would lead to worker layoffs. In Santa Fe, the local chamber of commerce joined with New Mexicans for Free Enterprise and four other plaintiffs to sue the city, arguing that the municipality did not have the power to enact a minimum wage higher than the state’s. Despite the opposition, the San Francisco raise passed with 60 percent of a ballot vote, and the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Santa Fe’s legislation. But over the next eight years, only three other localities raised their minimum wage above the state level.
Malmsheimer cites three reasons why the cities are driving the trend: It’s easier to pass legislation at the city level; Concerted targeting by advocacy groups, and; Cities have higher costs of living. It’s not a cakewalk, and big biz is fighting tenaciously against the trend. But Malmsheimer points out that there is “no evidence of appreciable job losses or job relocation from urban-focused minimum wages.”
Might this may be the dawn of a new era of cities filling the void left by Republican obstructionists in Washington? The minimum wage increases in cities are significant. But there may be a lot more to look forward to in other urban reforms that can’t get traction in congress, such as environmental regulations, housing and education, as well as needed economic incentives and disincentives.
Democrats need to keep up the good fight to win elections to secure needed national reforms. But let’s also keep an eye on the cities and get more involved in local reform movements. There is something to be said for keeping faith that workable reforms are contagious.