U.S. Sen. Johnson talks manufacturing, minimum wage hike

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Neil Johnson
Friday, April 25, 2014

JANESVILLE—As U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson sold ideas to rein in government spending Friday in Janesville, he also pushed ideas to boost technical college programs but eschewed the idea of a federal minimum wage hike.    

While a few residents mused on the 1950s and 1960s as an era of prosperity they wish the city could repeat, another wondered whether low-income earning parents could use a hike in the minimum wage.

Johnson, a Republican from Oshkosh, was in town to meet with the economic development group Forward Janesville.

In a talk before about a dozen residents, Johnson hit on such topics as the growth of the federal debt through discretionary spending. He also discussed trends he says show current federal spending in Social Security, Medicare and social welfare will put social programs trillions of dollars in the red in the next 20 years.

Johnson also talked about how student debt, college tuition and fees costs for college students are serving to shackle young adults with debt that outstrips their earning ability in the job force.

The latter talking point served as a segue for Johnson's ideas on emphasizing technical college programs as an alternative to four-year degree programs and a way to train workers for trade careers.

Johnson is a former CEO of an Oshkosh-based plastics manufacturing company. 

“We've got to stop communicating to kids that there is a first- and second-class road to potential. The thought that you have to get a four-year degree to not be a second-class citizen—that's wrong,” Johnson said. “We need those mechanics.”

He pointed out the 18,000 welding jobs in the state that now are going unfilled because there are too few trained workers.

Johnson also touched on a subject he admitted was touchy, drawing parallels between the upswing of unmarried parents and spending for social welfare programs. He showed numbers indicating children born out of wedlock have climbed 30 percent since the start of President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty in the 1960s.

Johnson blames a welfare system he says doesn't give single parents enough incentive to work or get married.

Janesville resident Debra Griffith, a schoolteacher, said she talks weekly to local families that include parents who work. She said many have two parents working full-time, minimum-wage jobs. Some even work a second part-time job and still don't earn enough to rise from poverty.

“How can we help the bottom end who do want to work who are trying really hard to raise themselves up?” Griffith asked. “Wouldn't it be better if we raised the minimum wage?”

Johnson told Griffith he doesn't support a federal push to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Instead, he said tax breaks, some for corporate entities and corporation heads, would keep capitol costs cheap and prevent corporations such as major fast-food chains from further automation and job cutting.

Johnson said that some analysts predict a minimum wage hike would cause the economy to shed 500,000 to 1 million jobs.

Johnson said the only minimum wage legislation he'd support is an immigration tax reform. He said it would create a minimum wage tax that would discourage companies from hiring migrant workers, which he argues lowers pay overall for lower-wage earners.

This story was updated April 28, 2014, to reflect the following correction:


An earlier version of this story reported an inaccurate number of projected U.S. job losses that could stem from a federal minimum wage increase.

At a town hall talk in Janesville on Friday, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said a minimum wage increase could prompt the loss of 500,000 to 1 million jobs.

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