Based on the reporting of a presentation by University of Guam economics professor Roseann Jones in our two daily newspapers (May 23), Bill 136-35 appears to be a debate over whether the minimum wage glass is half full or half empty.
The Pacific Daily News reports, “average wages across fields already hover slightly below or above the proposed increase.” And “it’s nice that they’re creating this floor when it's not going to affect the natural market.”
As reported, Jones postulated, though “the demand and supply markets are finding suitable wages on their own, ... you want to have a floor ... so that you have something for a basis, in case things begin to fall.” The PDN then reports, or editorializes (there are no quotation marks indicating this is in the words of the professor), that the bill “will ensure there is an acceptable floor, so that all businesses are honoring what the natural business market is already seeing.”
The Guam Daily Post, on the other hand, cites less enthusiasm for the bill in Jones’ speech, raising doubts about a legislated “acceptable” floor. “You want to see the government not messing in the free hand of the market for labor. But at the same time you want to make sure you have a floor. ... So in case things begin to fall, you have an automatic stabilizer for wage rates.” But, she cautions, “if our economy begins to falter, we don’t undo minimum wage laws. ... Those wage rates stick. So that’s why you end up having layoffs and unemployment.”
In the Post article, Jones is reported to have advised, “the discussion [of wage rate] economic policies shouldn’t focus solely on wage discrepancies.” Jones is quoted as saying, “I’m kind of tired of the minimum wage conversation. I really am. ... I think we got the minimum wage kind of covered from what we’re seeing. But beyond that, it needs some study.”
So the assessment of the bill as good or bad, and for whom, sits somewhere in the middle. The PDN article sees the glass as only half full. The Post article sees it as fully half empty.
Both articles frame their respective reports under headlines iterating the new bill would have a “minimal” or “minor” impact. The Post introduces its article with the statement the bill “won’t have a major effect on a majority of Guam’s wage earners,” suggesting the bill won’t do that much good. The PDN’s reports begin with the statement the minimum wage increase “would not produce major negative impacts,” suggesting the bill won’t do that much harm. But the PDN also admits, “increasing the wage will not solve the complexities of poverty, Jones said.”
So where does that leave us? When the cannons fall silent and the smoke finally clears, where are we? If this bill won’t do much harm or much good, what is the point of it but to politicize policy nitpicking?
My takeaway from this is that, whatever your bigger view of the matter, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Recall this bill and move on to matters that are obviously in need of fundamental repair.
John Thomas Brown is a Tumon resident.