I wanted to write on this for a couple reasons. First of all, this bill came about apparently out of fear that a ballot proposal was about to pass. The ballot proposal sought a slightly lower minimum wage in the immediate future, but differed in two significant areas. For one, it tied the minimum wage to inflation, assuring that the wage would increase every year with inflation without fail. For another, it placed this guarantee in the state constitution, making it far more difficult to ever repeal such a measure.
The second reason I wanted to discuss Michigan's new law is to point to the power of ballot initiatives. Groups that seem tiny in the shadow of powerful lobbying efforts actually can help bring about a better wage for our poorest legal workers. In the future I will point out a growing trend and momentum I see in various other states to raise minimum wages (and a growing religious-based movement in support of increased wages), but here I just want to applaud the efforts of groups like ACORN who help push the "minimum wage" into what we can all agree is more of a "living wage" as ACORN calls its campaigns.
Finally, I want to bring this all back into perspective. It is disappointing in some respects to see the that bill passed in Michigan over the ballot proposal. In truth, I firmly believe that the wages for the poorest workers must be indexed to inflation. It is fundamental to the values of this country that anyone who works hard should be able to afford all the basic necessities of life. This is what injects such solid logic into the "living wage" campaigns mentioned above. But to sustain a wage at a basic, needs-based level, it must be indexed to float up with the costs of those goods.
Critics of such proposals validly point to programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit that help offset stagnant wages. However, this is not enough. Many people eligible for the EITC are unaware of the program or mistakenly believe they are not eligible. Further, the lowest wages are not enough even with the EITC, food stamps, WIC (special supplement for women, infants and children), etc. And perhaps most importantly to both the employees (and I wish more employers), there is the morale issue. EITC and other programs or not, a person does not want to sit at the same position in a factor for five years and never see her paycheck change while her rent increases and gas prices rise.
Overall, though, the new law in Michigan is a positive sign for the working poor.