The “Five Stages” of Opposition to a Minimum Wage Increase

The 2014 Legislative session has gotten underway, and employer groups opposed to an increase in the state’s minimum wage are firing warning shots and charting diversionary tactics to try to keep this very popular proposal at bay.

For example, on Monday, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, popularly known as AIM and one of the largest employer trade groups, endorsed a version of the familiar “Walmart Strategem” — that a better approach to alleviating poverty would be for the state to pick up the tab by increasing its Earned Income Tax Credit. But even if the state doubled the size of this program, eligible families would see an average increase of maybe $400 or so, almost nothing compared to an increase in the minimum wage. (Also, does anybody really recall AIM making a big priority of expanding this taxpayer-funded program before? ed. – AIM says they have supported in past but not claiming “big priority”)

For the upcoming minimum wage battle, it seemed to me that those of us in support ought to have a guide to the various lines of attack we may anticipate. And so, borrowing from the work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to track the grieving process and a variety of other human ailments, here are the “Five Stages” of Opposition to a minimum wage increase.

First Stage: Denial. In this stage, the subject is given to repeating statements such as “this can’t be happening,” and “it is impossible that the order of the universe might be altered.” An example from our friends at Mass. Fiscal Alliance, who cannot contemplate such a development:

[Employers must] develop a campaign plan that addresses their largest two concerns: making payroll and knowing where their income is going to come from…by increasing the minimum wage rate, you are making it almost impossible for many to win; the rules are being changed for them.

Denial generally proves to be only a temporary defense and is soon followed by the other stages.

Second Stage: Anger. In this stage, the subject wants someone to blame and lashes out in anger that is often misdirected or displaced onto others. An example from our friends at AIM, in which anger is displaced onto the co-workers of those who would benefit from a minimum wage increase:

[Increasing the minimum wage] causes multiple problems for employers. It can erode morale among workers as existing employees become angry that newer or lower-skilled colleagues are making nearly as much or, in some cases, more than they are. That anger can in turn accelerate turnover as the result of employees quitting.

Third Stage: Bargaining. In this stage, as it becomes evident that the unwanted event might nonetheless occur, the subject attempts to negotiate conditions under which it might be acceptable. An example from our friends at the Mass. High Technology Council:

[Although employers] do not support the Senate’s approach to raising the minimum wage as a stand-alone proposal, there is a considerable change in opinion when cost-reducing reforms to the Unemployment Insurance system are considered as an inseparable component of the minimum wage proposal.

Fourth Stage: Depression. In this stage, the subject feels despondent and bleak about the future. As the debate progresses, we may expect to see evidence of this stage in the form of a downturn in business confidence as employers are surveyed about their outlook and the prospect of a minimum wage increase clouds their horizon.

Fifth Stage: Acceptance. In this stage, the subject finally begins to feel that things are going to be okay after all. Those of us who support a minimum wage increase hope that with acceptance also comes the realization that employers and employees are not engaged in a zero sum game, and instead, we all do better when we all do better.


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