Debate addresses minimum wage concerns

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Story by Matt Parks, Staff writer

On Oct. 4 the Murray State Department of Economics hosted a debate focused on the minimum wage issue.

The debate featured Bruce Kaufman, professor of economics at Georgia State University, and John Garen, director of the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky. It was hosted and moderated by Martin Milkman, M.S. program director for economics and finance.

Kaufman argued for the value of minimum wage, while Garen argued the minimum wage should be dictated by the market, as government-set minimum wages are actually detrimental to the economy.

According to the Kentucky Legislature website, the current minimum wage in Kentucky is $7.25 per hour, although recent legislation was just passed that will gradually increase minimum wage across the state to $10.10 per hour over the next three years.

David Eaton, department chair of economics and finance, introduced the two speakers and spoke about minimum wage, how it should be examined and how it affects the economy on various levels.

“As a society, we’re uncomfortable with extreme poverty,” Eaton said. “We’re uncomfortable with the idea of people not being able to do their best and achieve some level of well-being.”

Eaton said the main goal of the debate was to examine whether or not the minimum wage was an effective tool in mitigating that poverty. He said the number of workers making minimum wage is estimated at 3.3 percent of the workforce, which is “not an insignificant number.”

The speakers debated the pros and cons of the current minimum wage policies, and also discussed alternatives to the minimum wage.

Milkman said Murray State was able to fund the debate because of a grant from the Institute for Humane Studies. The institute is a “libertarian non-profit organization that engages with students and professors throughout the United States to encourage the study and advancement of freedom,” according to its website.

The institute also funded a different event last spring, which Milkman said was successful enough that he was contacted by the institute again this year to apply for a grant.

Milkman discussed the legality of minimum wages, which are often implemented on the state level, though some cities have successfully passed minimum wages well above the mandated state wage.

“Louisville actually passed an increase in the minimum wage,” Milkman said. “But it hasn’t been implemented yet because there is a dispute.”

Many other cities in Kentucky have also petitioned to raise their minimum wage, but will not be able to do so until the lawsuit deciding the fate of Louisville’s minimum wage is settled, as it will be a benchmark case for whether or not cities are able to set their own minimum wages in Kentucky.

Milkman said the Chamber of Commerce recently released a survey to Murray-Calloway county residents asking opinions on minimum wage, so the issue is one that hits close to home.

He said the department will likely host another academic event in the spring semester.