On this week's edition of "Moyers and Co.," host Bill Moyers spoke with economist Richard Wolff about the U.S. minimum wage, and how raising it would not just benefit workers at the bottom end of the economic spectrum, but rather the entire economy.
Moyers opened the segment by saying that even if the country increases the minimum wage to the $9 per hour proposed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech, workers will still be worse off than their counterparts were fifty years ago.
Wolff agreed, "The peak for the minimum wage in terms of its purchasing power," he said, "was 1968. It's basically been declining, with a couple of ups and downs, ever since."
"So, you've taken the people who work at the bottom, full time job," he continued, "and you've made their economic condition worse over a 50 year period while wealth has accumulated at the top. What kind of a society does this?"
"Who decided that workers at the bottom should fall behind?" Moyers asked.
"Well, in the end," said Wolff, "it's the society as a whole that tolerates it. But, it's Congress' decision and Congress' power to raise the minimum wage."
Moyers raised the question of whether there is simply enough money in the economy to raise wages for the lowest earners, wondering if there could be "devastating" consequences.
Wolff said that yes, in "some cases," employers will have to hire fewer people with a higher minimum wage, "but you have to weight that against this," he said. "If the 15 million American workers whose wages will go up if we raise the minimum wage, those people will have a higher income."
Quite simply, he said, "They'll have more money. And when they spend more money on goods and services, that will create more jobs for those who produce goods and services."
If you're going to understand what will happen if the minimum wage is raised, Wolff continued, you can't just look at what "some employers" are going to do by laying off or not hiring workers. "You have to look at all the other effects," he said.
And when economists work out the math, Wolff maintained, they find that ultimately, raising the minimum wage has "very little" overall effect on the economy at large, but, he said, it will make life better for working people.
"At the very least, we'll have transformed the lives of 15 million Americans," he said.
A study released in November reported that higher retail wages would benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty.
Watch the video, embedded via Moyers and Co., below: