Robert Kuttner's Sept. 21 op-ed column, "Minimum Wage: Theory and Reality," displayed a glaring flaw in logic. If the money employers lose from increased labor costs because of a higher minimum wage was truly gained in increased productivity and reduced turnover, recruitment and training costs, as Mr. Kuttner stated, wouldn't employers voluntarily raise wages for their lowest-paid workers? According to Mr. Kuttner's assumptions, such an action would benefit all involved.
In the real world, when confronted with Sen. Ted Kennedy's proposed dollar-per-hour increase in the minimum wage, employers who pay the current hourly minimum of $5.15 will have to decide if every worker on their payroll is worth at least one more dollar per hour. Clearly some will not be, and they will lose their jobs. Further, who is to say that $6.15 per hour is a truly "living wage"?
If Sen. Kennedy's bill passes, it won't take Democrats in Congress long to call for another increase, winning them political points but costing the jobs of some of this country's most vulnerable employees.
American garment manufacturing firms are caught in a squeeze by the Kennedy/Bonior legislation. Wages for sewing machine operators run just over the minimum in the $5.80 to $7.50 area and would be pushed up by a mandated increase. Unhappily for the workers and firms involved, Congress also is considering legislation to eliminate duties and quotas on apparel from Central America and the Caribbean, plus sub-Saharan Africa, more than 70 countries in which the prevailing wages are so far below the proposed U.S. minimums as to be not comparable.
This industry has lost more than 300,000 jobs in the past five years to low-wage competition. Forcing up its wage structure, while simultaneously opening it to more low-wage competition, sacrifices domestic jobs to the greater glory of open trade. But that glory distinctly leaves out the very people Mr. Kuttner wants to support.
Until Congress considers some mechanism for insulating domestic workers in internationally competitive industries from the well-meaning effects of this legislation, the legislation can only drive more companies out of business. Who loses then?
SETH M. BODNER
The writer is executive director of the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association.