By David Flemming
During the Democratic primary debate in Detroit, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said, “The minimum wage is just too low, and so-called conservative Christian senators, right now, in the Senate, are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage, when scripture says that ‘whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.’”
The bill in question languishing in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate is remarkably similar to Vermont’s $15 minimum wage bills. The Vermont proposal that would have raised Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 by 2024 or 2026 nearly made it to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk before Democrat infighting in the House and Senate killed the bill. The federal proposal Buttigieg is pointing to would raise the U.S. minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
Buttigieg’s comment about “so-called conservative Christian senators” could mean several things:
- Conservatives who oppose the minimum wage can’t be faithful Christians because they are living in blatant disregard of the Bible’s teaching (Buttigieg, a progressive, considers himself an Episcopalian).
- Christians and/or conservatives are morally obligated to support the minimum wage hike because Christians should use public policy to help the poor.
His first moral judgment is the more insulting of the two. He seems to be claiming that the only sincere Christians are those with a non-conservative ideology, questioning the faith of millions of Americans (including the author) who have conservative views and are Christians.
The second moral judgment is more deserving of a response. Buttigieg quotes Proverbs 14:31 from the New American Standard Bible to reveal the supposed contradiction in the GOP’s policy: “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.”
Who are the poor in question, and how would they be affected by a minimum wage hike? There are four groups of the poor who would be potentially affected by a $15 minimum wage hike nationwide:
- Those getting a pay raise with the same hours
- Those getting a pay raise and a cut in their hours
- Those who are never hired because an employer couldn’t afford to take a chance on hiring them
- Those who are let go because their labor is not worth $15/hour to their employer
If Buttigieg has overwhelming evidence indicating that the vast majority of the poor would see an overall increase in their pay (despite working fewer hours), then he could conceivably have an argument. But given that many minimum wage studies contradict Buttigieg, and may actually point to higher rates of unemployment among the poor after substantial minimum wage increases, Buttigieg’s inaccurate remarks become even more incendiary when he claims that “so-called Christian conservatives” are morally wrong to oppose a $15 minimum wage.
So how has Mayor Pete treated the poor in his town of South Bend?
Shawn White, a black 24-year-old from South Bend’s lower-income west side, said he used to see Buttigieg’s mayoral predecessor, Steve Luecke, around his neighborhood. But Buttigieg?
“I ain’t ever seen the dude,” White said in a CNBC interview. “Tell him to chill with us for three or four days.”
Buttigieg’s housing demolition program in the poor areas of South Bend didn’t go so well, according to the CNBC report:
“One of the first problems to emerge was the clouds of dust, feared to contain lead and asbestos, that spread uncontained from the demolition sites. Soon, wild animals, like raccoons and groundhogs, appeared in people’s homes. Vacant lots, where crumbling houses once stood, became dumping sites as tall grass grew.”
As Matthew 7:5 says: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Perhaps Mayor Pete should talk to the poor in South Bend before he starts proscribing labor policy for the nation.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.