Steve Chapman

Supporters of the change insist that an increase would have no such effect, and a couple of studies support the claim. But if it's true, why stop at $9.80 an hour? Why not $19.80? Why not $99.80? Water won't run up a steep slope -- but it also won't run up a gentle one.

Nor is it plausible to believe, as the National Employment Law Project does, that giving more money to workers would lift the economy because it "would give people more money to spend." It would do that by leaving other people less money to spend -- either the business owners who would have to pay higher wages or the customers who would face higher prices. The total amount of money available for making purchases wouldn't change.

Supporters think raising the minimum wage is a good way to reduce poverty, but it's not. Neumark says only about 17 percent of minimum wage workers are in poor families. Many of the rest of are middle-class youngsters.

A better way to help workers at the bottom is already in place -- the federal earned income tax credit, which supplements the earnings of low-income workers. A woman with one child earning the minimum wage in a full-time job can get an additional $3,169 per year from the tax credit. This approach has the distinct advantage of channeling extra money to the working poor -- without turning some of them into the unemployed poor.

In trying to help those in need, avoiding certain harm to the intended beneficiaries is not too much to ask. In fact, it should be the minimum.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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