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Why Congressman Tim Burchett is wrong about the minimum wage

On Oct. 14, Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, tweeted “4.3 million workers quit their jobs.  We need to quit paying folks not to work.” 

Several people took him to task for not knowing that those who quit jobs generally are not eligible for unemployment, or that extended unemployment benefits had ended. 

Others properly noted that people frequently leave jobs for other jobs, or to deal with care for children or elderly parents. 

Still, others pointed out that if he wishes to promote the value of work then he should support a higher minimum wage; he doesn’t. 

This online incident nicely explains one of many reasons I’m running for Congress, challenging Burchett about the best way to serve our area. 

We need to reward work by paying a living wage, and that means a $15 an hour minimum wage. The good news is that recent research shows the value of such an increase, often based on the real-world experience of communities that have raised the minimum wage. 

In January of this year, four researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper on minimum wage increases. 

They systematically reviewed the effects of 172 prominent minimum wage increases between 1979 and 2019. They found clear evidence of higher wages at the lower end of workforce compensation. 

The authors wrote, “Furthermore, we find no indication that minimum wage has a negative effect on the unemployment rate, on labor force participation, or on the labor market transitions.”  

Another nice summary of the research on minimum wage increases may be found in research by economics professor Michael Reich in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management earlier this year. 

He wrote, “The best research on minimum wage-employment effects finds small to negligible effects on tends and restaurant workers. Newer studies using improved methods also find that minimum wage policies have had minimal effects on overall employment.” 

Increased salaries could lift more people out of poverty

The Economic Policy Institute looked at the gains we all would enjoy from the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, a piece of legislation that would hike the current minimum wage of $7.25 and hour to $15 an hour by 2025. 

The federal minimum has not been raised in more than 10 years, so with each passing year, the minimum leaves workers further behind price increases. The report also noted that if the minimum had tracked increased productivity over the last five decades, the minimum wage would be $22 an hour. 

The EPI report calculated that the Raise the Wage Act would lift 3.7 million people, including 1.3 million children, out of poverty. 

Mark Harmon, KNS columnist

The legislation would lift the earnings of 32 million workers, more than one in five jobs.  Roughly three of every five of those getting a raise would be persons we classify as essential or front-line workers. 

Congressmen are paid $174,000 a year.  Tim Burchett doesn’t earn his pay or do his job when he ignores the research and repeats stale disproven claims. 

He’s acting like a casual critic, tweeting nonsense as he hustles down the Capitol steps to attend his next big-money fundraiser. 

I want to do the job differently—listening to constituents, learning from research, and supporting working families. 

Mark Harmon is a professor of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tennessee, and a Democratic Party candidate for Congress.  Opinion article post at