Will Palin Walk Her Conservative Talk Back Home in Alaska
Author: Kristen Lopez Eastlick
Publication Date: March 2009
Newspaper: D.C. Examiner
Ever since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin burst onto the public stage in 2008, many in the conservative movement have looked to her as a leader, watching closely to see what she plans to do with the platform, visibility, and popularity she so quickly attained.
Republicans in Congress are in disarray, and many pundits are predicting the next leader will be a governor. But unlike other Republican governors, Palin has the unique advantage of having already spent months in the national spotlight as Sen. John McCain’s vice-presidential runningmate.
So what has the nation’s top hockey mom been up to since Election Day? Apart from a few diversions, like her infamous turkey pardon interview, she’s been busy helping Alaska negotiate the economic crisis. The state is reeling from the drop in oil prices and rising unemployment.
If Palin is going to be the conservative leader of the future, how she navigates the economic crisis in Alaska will be a proving ground of sorts. America will be watching to see if she has the courage to implement the conservative policies she advocated on the campaign trail.
The first test comes in the form of proposed legislation to index Alaska’s minimum wage. State Representative Pete Petersen recently introduced a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.15 to $7.85 in 2010, $8.60 in 2011, and $9.45 in 2012. Following that, the wage rate would rise automatically to match inflation.
The bill is politically popular and being pushed heavily by state Democrats, but it would spell disaster for the employment prospects rate of the estimated 22,000 Alaskans who currently earn minimum wage. Businesses in Alaska are already struggling to stave off bankruptcy, and inflating the minimum wage will only make labor less affordable.
If this legislation passes, a small business with 20 employees at or near the minimum wage will see their labor expenses increase by at least $29,000 in 2010 and over $57,000 by 2012 and that doesn’t include the hidden ripple effect on other wages.
Add in the indexing policy and the costs will compound as the wage moves steadily higher. Combined with a slowing economy and dwindling demand, business owners will have to cut back. Many jobs will be culled in the process.
The evidence is clear for Palin to see: Last year, unemployment rose 25% faster in states that indexed their minimum wage than in states that did not. That 25% difference, applied nationwide, could mean the loss of up to 1 million additional full-time employees, concentrated among the least skilled in society.
Indexing isn’t just bad for business, it’s bad for young workers, too. Mainstream economists agree that forced wage hikes lead employers to eliminate entry-level jobs or reduce hours.
That squeezes the least skilled workers out of the labor market, where they miss out on more than just money. Simply having a job teaches young people valuable lessons about responsibility, punctuality, and being part of a team. An inflated minimum wage will eliminate those jobs and deny Alaska?s youth those vital opportunities that serve as an invisible curriculum not taught in school.
Palin has some hard choices ahead. Blocking a wage increase may be an unpopular move, but living up to her conservative reputation and ideals is going to mean making tough calls for the good of her state. This is one of those times.