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Jobs an issue in Senate race

By Paige Hobbs

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The issues of minimum wage and how to create jobs in Kentucky have played a major role in the race for the U.S. Senate between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, is pushing to raise the minimum wage and argues that doing so will create more jobs.

McConnell disagrees and says it is likely that he will become the Senate majority leader and thus able to set the national agenda and help create jobs.

The minimum wage “has been raised 23 times since 1938. Still, its value today is far lower than it was two generations ago,” William Finnegan wrote in The New Yorker in September. “The 1968 minimum wage, to take a high-water mark, was in real 2014 dollars, $10.95 an hour.” Democrats want to raise the wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over three years.

Grimes repeatedly points out that McConnell has voted against raising the minimum wage 17 times and that she will fight to bring to Kentucky a “living wage.” McConnell has said that he might be for raising the wage at a time when the economy was stronger.

“Increasing the wage will decrease the number of jobs in Kentucky,” McConnell said in the candidates’ only real debate, Oct. 13 on KET. “You will destroy between half a million and 1 million jobs” nationally by passing the Democratic proposal. “That’s not the way to grow our economy.”

McConnell’s numbers are from a February report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which said “most low-wage workers “would receive higher pay . . .  but some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated . . . and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.”

Grimes replied that “the full story of the CBO report is it would help lift a million—over a million—Americans out of poverty.”

Grimes cites a report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “It shows when you increase the wage up to $10.10 an hour, you actually increase our gross domestic product, increase incomes across the commonwealth,” she said. “You actually create over 2,200 good-paying jobs.” These projections are based on a report from January 2014.

The KCEP has criticized the CBO report, saying it “picked an employment impact estimate that is higher than a large and growing body of research says is likely,” and said jobs losses would occur primarily through attrition. It also noted that CBO said “24 million low-wage workers stand to benefit from the proposed increase.”

Throughout the campaign Grimes has criticized McConnell for his comment to The Beattyville Enterprise for saying that bringing jobs to that area “is not my job.” The Enterprise reported that it asked McConnell “what he was going to do to bring jobs to Lee County.”

He replied, “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.” He added that he was fighting to save coal jobs, and talked about that and his other job-creation efforts in a speech in Beattyville that day, which the newspaper did not cover.

During the KET debate, Grimes said “I’m the only candidate in this race with a jobs plan and that’s how we put Kentucky back to work. . . . That starts by closing the loopholes and ending the tax breaks that Senator Mitch McConnell has given that has shipped our good jobs overseas.”

Fact-checkers have criticized that characterization because McConnell didn’t vote for the tax breaks, but against limiting the standard business deduction for moving expenses to moves within the United States.

In the debate, McConnell responded by calling the Obama administration a “jobs destroyer.”  He said if elected, it is likely that he would be the leader of the Senate majority, and “We’d be voting on things like the Keystone pipeline, which would enable about 20,000 people to go to work quickly.”

The candidates agreed on one thing in the debate, that bringing jobs to Kentucky would be the greatest accomplishment either could have in the next six-year Senate term.

Paige Hobbs of Brandenburg wrote this story for “Covering the U.S. Senate Race,” a special course in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

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