| Sep 14 2014
One of the telltale signs that an election is coming up is Harry Reid’s agenda in the Senate. When, instead of moving to serious measures, you see him using valuable time pushing political messaging bills, you know the midterms are fast approaching.
With Nov. 4 now less than two months away, the majority leader announced last week his intention to move to bills focused on raising the minimum wage and refinancing student loans. Low wages and student loan debt are serious issues, but the bills he plans to have us vote on to address these problems are not. They certainly poll well, but they would do nothing to address the plight of people stuck in low-wage jobs or students saddled with burdensome debt.
Take, for example, an employee of a fast-food chain working for minimum wage. Advances in technology already are changing the way fast food is delivered. It will not be long before franchise owners move toward greater automation in the industry.
In fact, a decade from now, when you drive up to a drive-through window, your order will likely be placed on a touch screen rather than taken by a person at the window. If we raise the minimum wage now, it will drive many franchise owners to move even faster toward automation. And the end result will be that many workers’ wages will go from minimum wage to zero because they will be replaced by technology.
A better way to improve their wages is to provide them the opportunity to acquire skills that will allow them to find a better-paying job, so that the cashier at a fast-food restaurant making $9 an hour can become a dental hygienist making $30; so that the home health aide making $10 an hour can become a registered nurse making $70,000 a year.
Ultimately, to benefit all Americans, especially young Americans saddled with student loans and workers stuck in low-paying jobs, what we really need are measures that help us achieve a thriving free market economy — an economy that creates millions of jobs that pay $40, $50, or more, an hour.
And we need a 21st-century system of higher education that equips all of our people — not just those who have $50,000 and four years to spare — with skills they need to fill these 21st-century jobs.
I’ve spent much of the year proposing reforms to achieve these goals. They will make higher education more accessible to everyone, from single moms to working parents to young Americans with limited resources. And instead of a minimum wage increase, my reforms will institute a wage enhancement credit that will help low-income Americans without burdening employers.
My proposals will spur the sort of transformative innovation that has always characterized the American free-enterprise system — the kind that led to the creation of the airplane, the personal computer and the Internet in the last century, and that has the potential to create new industries in this century that we haven’t even begun to imagine.
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