I’ve had a bit of writer’s block for a while, as evidenced by my latest Ben Folds project just petering out almost three months ago. Lots of reasons for this, most of which don’t seem that important right now.
But sometimes, I see something that just makes me want to write something real quick and get it off my chest:
Mittens Romney, a man that worked at one of the companies that helped kill Toys R Us (among others), is going to get on the Tweet machine (or have one of his social media interns or whatever) to tweet an attack at the long-promised-but-not-yet-delivered student loan forgiveness that isn’t any closer to happening than it was yesterday? Or the day before? Or January 20, 2021?!?
Currently the representative for House District 13 in the Utah House of Representatives. (He’s actually my representative). First elected in 2000 with 66% of the vote. Upset in the 2002 Republican primary by Dana Love, who then ran unopposed in the general election. Ray came roaring back in the 2004 Republican primary and defeated Representative Love, then won with 86% of the vote in the general election, albeit against only a candidate from the Constitution Party. He’s been in the Utah House ever since.
His electoral history since (keep in mind that he’s represented the same general area of Davis County even after lines were shifted a bit in 2011 reapportionment).
After a bit of a delay, caused by a late count due to the pandemic but also because of the prior administration’s lack of care about things like Constitutional mandate, the Census finally released the results of the once-every-ten-years (decennial?) count of people in the United States. I hope you filled out your Census form when it came to your house. If not… too late!*
*As a quick aside, it doesn’t look like I’ve ever written anything on here about my love for the Census, though I have done numerous Twitter threads about it (that I won’t be linking here). The Census is great and the 1990 one helped my parents provide for our family, so I’ll always have a soft spot for the count.
The topline results were pretty staggering, all things considered, with the US population growing to just over 331 million people since 2010, an increase of 7.35% from the nearly 309 million in 2010. Only three states saw their populations decline, and the average growth of the states was right around the overall growth of the country (funny how that works).
Which States Saw the Growth?
The big growth continues to be out west, with eight of the top ten fastest growing states being west of the Mississippi River, with Florida (14.56%) and South Carolina (10.66%) crashing the party in that regard.*
Five Fastest Growing States – *others in the top 10: Colorado, Washington and Arizona
Slow Growth but Still (Mostly) Positive
The slowest growing group is a mix of different states. Two high-tax havens (Illinois and Connecticut) and two rural states (West Virginia and Mississippi), with Michigan rounding out the group with a great number (for them), at least over the past 15 years or so.
Five Slowest Growing States
In a simpler world, one would look at these trends and move House seats around based on where the growth is happening, which is kind of what happens. But would you be shocked to learn that only one state in the Top 5 above is gaining a seat in the House? (Texas gained two!) Meanwhile, three of the bottom five did see a loss of seats, with West Virginia, Illinois, and Michigan losing a Representative.
Who Gained and Lost Seats?
Overall, this is what the total apportionment shift looked like after the count was done and the Census did their fancy math:
If anything, there is a flaw in the current system, partially due to the cap of 435 seats in the House of Representatives. This number has been capped for over 100 years, and only temporarily increased to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii were added as states in the middle of the 20th century. As such, California, the largest state in the country that saw nearly a 6% increase over the past decade, lost a seat for the first time in their history, and after being at 53 seats since the 2000 Census. In fact, as mentioned above, only Illinois and West Virginia actually lost people among the states losing seats, though it is true that the states losing seats have seen growth slow.
As a result, those 52 Representatives in California will each represent an average of 760,000 people. By comparison, Wyoming, the smallest state, has one Representative that will care for 577,000 by themselves. Overall, the average for the 435 seats in the House is just over 760,000 people, which shows that California is properly “apportioned” by that simple math.
Grow the House!
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While the Senate is supposed to make “all states equal,” there are numerous reasons why that is not necessarily the case, and that’s before discussing adding states to the mix. There is simply no reason why we should remain at 435 members in the House of Representatives. And short of multi-member districts, which leads even small states like New Hampshire to have 400 members in their House, the easiest way to ensure more representation for the people is to expand the size of the House.
I’ve seen numerous numbers thrown about, so I’ll look at a couple of different scenarios. First, let’s take a look at what the House would look like if we expanded it to 550 members, using the same apportionment methods. In an ideal world, stuff like DC statehood and abolishment of the Electoral College would occur first before an expansion of the House. I have left these scenarios out of the equation (for now), and will assume that we’ll still use the relic of the Electoral College to elect presidents for some reason.
550 Member House?
With 550 members, only four states – Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming – would remain at one member. These are the smallest four states (by population), so that makes sense. Delaware and South Dakota would gain their second seat and all but 10 states would gain additional seats from what they have after the recent reapportionment. The biggest beneficiaries are obviously the largest states, with California gaining 14 seats (to 66) and Texas gaining an additional 10 (to 48). The average representative would represent just over 600,000 people, which is just about the population of Wyoming.
This would not change the results of the presidential race much under the Electoral College. Using the results from the 2020 election, Democrats would win 369 votes to the Republicans 284, roughly the same ratio of what the current map would return. However, if we look at the electoral map from the 2016 election, the ratio would actually be better for the Republicans, the the winner of that election netting 373 votes and the loser getting 280. It’s only about a half percent different on each side, but the gap is wider nonetheless.
One benefit to moving to an even number of House members, at least under the current rules, is that the total electoral votes, 653, is an odd number meaning that there will never be a tie in the Electoral College. While this has never occurred, there were numerous scenarios that it could have with the most recent election, throwing it even more into chaos.
Set the Number Based on Lowest Population
If we instead base the number of seats off the population of the smallest state, we would simply divide the population of the smallest state by the total population to determine how many Representatives there should be. Currently, that state is Wyoming, and if we do that math, we would have 573 Representatives. In this scenario, North Dakota would gain a second seat, leaving only three states with one Representative. California (+17) and Texas (+13) are still the biggest gainers, but Florida (+9) and New York (+9) would be on the cusp of gaining double-digit seats.
Even beyond those top states, adding additional seats could be better at the state level as well. Take my home state (Utah) for example. Under both scenarios discussed thus far, Utah would gain an additional seat (or two, in the case of 573). This would allow for one or possibly two competitive districts within Utah, allowing for the Democrats within Utah to find some representation. Currently, Democratic candidates in Utah get about 35% in statewide elections. However, our four Congressional districts are currently all Republicans.
This would also be the case in those states dominated by Democrats. For example, all five Representatives from Connecticut are all Democrats, though they do have two “competitive” districts of sorts. With 573 members, Connecticut would gain another seat, and I imagine that the district lines in Connecticut could be redrawn to make a district even more competitive for the GOP. This same story would repeat across multiple states.
Every State Gets At Least Two
Going back to Wyoming, since they would be the last state to gain a second Rep, I wanted to see what the House would look like if we added members until they were awarded their second member. That number was 812! California, which currently has 52x as many Representatives as Wyoming (and all the other 1 Rep states), would only have… 47.5x as many Reps if Wyoming gets to their second seat, ending up with 97 total seats, or 12% of the total seats in the House, about the ratio of what it is now.
In this scenario, six states would have just two members – Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming – and 22 states would have fewer than 10 seats each and would equal about the total representation of California alone. This obviously is not much different than it is today, but more seats could result in more representation at the state level for the minority party in our two-party system. For example, based on current voting trends and this massive House, Utah should expect to be competitive for three of the eight seats in Utah, because more seats almost guarantees that it’s hard to gerrymander the minority party out of representation.
Ten Years to Go
I don’t think we should wait until the 2030 Census to move some seats around or expand the House. For one, DC statehood could possible occur long before 2030 (fingers crossed), as well as the self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. That would lead to moving seats around… or simply adding seats to the House instead.*
*The addition of DC as a state wouldn’t be that big of a deal House wise, as they would currently only get one seat based on population. Puerto Rico, however, would probably end up with four seats (potentially five as they are slightly larger than Utah based on the Census, and Utah is the cusp between four seats and five seats at the moment). Without House expansion, even temporarily, the addition of DC and PR would result in the loss of seats for Minnesota, Montana, California, Colorado, and Oregon, three of which are new based on the current Census.
We could determine an ending number for the House, and add seats gradually over the next decade leading to the Census, though the best way might be to add them all at the same time in order to give the states the opportunity to draw more districts in time for the next election. I don’t know the best number; I’m partial to the second method I outlined here.
The more immediate concern should be addressing statehood for DC and Puerto Rico (if they want it), as well as a solution for the other territories – American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands – under the United States’ purview. It seems silly to have over 4 million people that do not have all the rights of citizenship because of where they live, and the US doesn’t need territories in this day and age.
Either way, there are plenty of other things that can be done before expanding the House, but it’s odd that nobody has seriously broached the topic when discussing some of the other “democracy” reforms that are currently under discussion. The country had 92 million people when the House of Representatives was capped at 435 members. While the House does not half to be expanded to 1564 members to match the growth of population, maybe it’s time to grow it to some number in the middle between the two numbers.
As we sit around waiting for much needed relief from our government – primarily because the Democrats love the filibuster for some reason even though about 98% of the people in America don’t even know what that is – a lot of the debate has turned to increasing the minimum wage in the United States.
Why is this a thing people are talking about? Well, part of the reason is because we are all poor in this country (just some of us refuse to actually admit it), but it’s also because President Biden wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of his COVID relief plan. Mind you, that $15/hour wage won’t actually exist until 2025 because we can’t just immediately make people better off in this country.
But it’s being debated because the machination that the evenly divided Senate will be using to pass this relief bill requires us to think if increasing the minimum wage has a fundamental impact on the budget and blah blah blah this is all so boring. NOBODY CARES ABOUT PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE EXCEPT MODEL UN NERDS AND SIMILAR WEIRDOS. Just pass the stimulus, even if it means doing it over the objections of all that stand in the way for purely dumb reasons.
Let’s talk a bit about the minimum wage in this country, shall we?
The United States was fairly late to the idea of a minimum wage for its workers. The Fair Labor and Standards Act of 1938 was what established the federal minimum wage in this country. It was part of The New Deal under FDR after the Great Depression, and established the eight hour workday and a 40-hour workweek (this was only after the initial proposal of a 30-hour workweek was rejected). The minimum wage was established at $0.25/hour, which in today’s money would be around $4.60 an hour.
It has been adjusted since, obviously, and peaked at an adjusted value back in 1968, when it was nominally $1.60/hour, which is equivalent to $12.25 in today’s dollar. It has gradually declined from that point since, and was increased to its current $7.25 way back in 2009… which is only worth $8.25 in current money.
There have been attempts to move above this level since 2009, but there just hasn’t been any real movement. President Obama wanted to phase up an increase to $10.10 over two years in the 2014 Minimum Wage Fairness Act, but Republicans in Congress didn’t like that, probably claiming “states’ rights” and that the federal government shouldn’t be able to step in on “state” business like that.
Twenty-nine states have minimum wages that exceed the federal minimum wage, with the highest being paid to workers in Washington, DC ($15/hour). As for actual states, Washington leads the way at $13.69/hour. Sixteen states have set minimum wage at the federal level, while five states do not have an established minimum wage, though the positions covered by the FLSA have to pay the minimum of $7.25.
It’s a mix of states depending on political “leanings.” If we base it on electoral votes, the 29 states (and DC) paying more than the federal minimum wage would account for 315 Electoral College votes. But they are a mix of states with different politics at the local and state levels and not as easily defined as “red vs. blue.”
As I pointed out in a Twitter thread, my “junior” Senator, Mitt Romney, has proposed a laughable minimum wage of $10/hour, with an equally ludicrous provision that it somehow screens out illegal immigrants from payrolls (which is just racism and anti-poor with an extra step). The required e-Verify compliance he is seeking is not cheap, so of course if any small employers has to hire someone but has to screen them, guess what the default is going to end up being? They’ll hire the person that appears to pass the e-Verify check without the risk of failing the check, closing down hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs for folks with non-white skin.
But I digress.
A $10/hour minimum wage sounds good because it is more than the current, 12 year-old level. But it is not. If you look at just one aspect of what people spend money on (housing), $10/hour cannot rent the average apartment in all 50 states. In fact, only four states check in at less than $15/hour, and they are all barely under that threshold. The lowest state, Arkansas, would require a wage of $14.19/hour to rent the average two bedroom home, or 57 hours a week at the current minimum wage.
Contrast that with Hawaii, the state at the top of the rankings, or even California, the highest of the mainland. Hawaii requires 153 hours at the current minimum wage, leaving all of 15 hours the rest of the week for non-work time. Hawaii is beautiful, but unless you are making legit money, you are living in a tiny apartment or with multiple roommates to be able to afford it, which is sadly the story in a lot of high-cost places.
So does that mean that we should continue to leave the minimum wage question up to the states? No! As 29 states (+DC) have proven, they are willing to go above the minimum as necessary to their current market conditions. Hawaii’s minimum wage is only $10.10, but I imagine an increase to the federal minimum wage to $15 would lead them to increase it slightly. Would it be 40% higher like it is now? Probably not, but they’ll adjust as needed. The other states would follow suit.
As for the other 21 states, they need to be dragged kicking and screaming into caring for their people, apparently. Utah, the state that Romney represents, requires a wage of $19.83 to rent the average two bedroom home. And with the type of construction going on around here, those type of homes are going to be harder to find. Plus, not every household has two wage earners, or simply has to cover housing alone. I’m in a one-income household, and while I make much more than the minimum wage, if not for the VA loan that helped buy our house, we’d be in a much worse situation.
I’m not an economist, not even at an amateur level, but I feel like paying people more money at the bottom of the economy is a net positive for society as a whole. Multi-billion dollar companies like Walmart that employ millions of people would be forced to pay their employees more, hopefully reducing the burden on programs like welfare that they have to use to make ends meet. That would in turn make it better for every taxpayer in this country, and while poverty would not end overnight – sustained poverty is more than just making more money at a job – it would be immediately improved. Yes, prices would rise, but they are rising anyway and the minimum wage has not been increased for nearly 12 years! If the wage was the thing preventing inflation (spoiler alert: it’s not), costs of things wouldn’t be growing so much faster than wages in this county.
Overall housing prices have increased by over 26% since 2009, just under 2% a year. Basic commodities have increased by nearly 11%. Tuition, other school fees, and childcare have increased by over 42%, which seems low. All this while real wages (not just the minimum wage) has been all but stagnant since the late 1960s.
The real average wage (preliminary) for January 2021 was $29.96. A split of the difference between the current minimum wage and that number would be about $18.50, which would be a much better starting point for a minimum wage in this country. If it needs to be phased in, so be it, but it needs to be done quickly as whatever it ends at is going to be too little in a couple year’s time, especially if we wait another 12 years to raise it.
The $15 they are aiming for at the moment wouldn’t actually occur until 2025, by which time it will already be too little. If they accelerated it a bit, say by 2023 with increases pegged to CPI plus 0.5% (or so) every year after, it might actually catch up before my son enters the labor market in 10ish years.
Either way, if a country truly cares about poverty and caring for their citizens, a minimum wage is a good place to start. Thirteen countries in the OECD have higher minimum wages than the US when adjusted for purchasing power. While none are above $15/hour, they also have more robust social programs that allow for lower wages to be paid at the bottom. The United States decided that poverty was something that is inherent… and has not done anything to alleviate it. So while CEOs earn magnitudes over their lowest paid employee, the wage and wealth gaps continue to grow with no end in sight.
Would raising the minimum wage tomorrow fix these problems? No, not really. As I said earlier, true poverty is a multi-faceted issue that requires a lot more work than raising wages. But it would be a start, and it should be done sooner rather than later. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour effective January 1, 2022, and increase it by CPI every year thereafter forever. Businesses will adjust. Profits won’t shrink (by that much), and more money would enter the economy.
You could also reinforce the small employers out there that would see wage bills increase overnight, like a more gradual increase or even paying the difference between their current employees’ wages and the new minimum wage. Pay this difference by taxing the large employers that will simply eat the increased wages into their profit margins, or take it out of a tax on CEO compensation that is over 30 times larger than the average wage at the company. There are solutions to make things more equitable and sustainable long term.
So while I appreciate the effort from Senator Romney, he truly could do a whole lot better. He should look at the cost of living in his own state and realize that $10, while it would help, is not enough to truly make a difference. A minimum wage of $15 should truly be the minimum starting point, with gradual increases annually until we are paying a living wage. A rising tide floats all boats, and raising the minimum wage should not even be in question.
Unless, of course, you want to offer a universal basic income instead…