WASHINGTON — The most-searched issue on Google in all but six states during the final presidential debate was wages, underscoring the importance of the issue to voters in this election.
And the searches spiked just as NBC News moderator Kristen Welker asked about the minimum wage, a pocketbook issue affecting millions of Americans on which there is a sharp contrast between the candidates: Joe Biden wants to raise the federal minimum wage while President Donald Trump wants to defer to states.
Asked if he still supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour even as businesses are struggling to stay open during the pandemic, Biden replied, “I do.”
“I think one of the things we are going to have to do is we are going to have to bail them out, too — we should be bailing them out now, those small businesses,” he said. “You’ve got 1 in 6 of them going under. They are not going to be able to make it back.”
Trump said he opposes a higher federal wage floor, arguing it would hurt employers and that a $15 wage would “be ruinous” in certain parts of the country.
“I think it should be a state option,” the president said. “Alabama is different than New York, New York is different from Vermont. Every state is different. It should be a state option.”
In the other six states, the top-searched issue during the Trump-Biden showdown Thursday was unemployment, Google said.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been raised since July 2009. Republicans have defeated efforts to raise it, but a potential Democratic sweep next month could lead to a boost: The party has embraced the goal of a $15 federal wage in a push led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., two-time runner-up for the party’s presidential nomination.
“As covid has decimated our workforce, there’s a real possibility that many of the jobs available for folks to come back to are low wage jobs. That makes the case even greater for raising the minimum wage to a living wage,” said Faiz Shakir, the former campaign manager for Sanders. “Those in the bubble with high paying jobs, 401(k)s and daily Zoom calls should not lose touch with the pain afflicting tens of millions of hard-hit Americans.”
Economists debate the merits of a higher minimum wage. Some emphasize that it would make it harder for businesses to pay employees and therefore cost jobs, while others say it would boost household incomes, raise consumer spending and deliver net benefits to the economy.
“How are you helping your small businesses when you are forcing wages? What’s going to happen, and what’s been proven to happen, is when you do that these small businesses fire many of their employees,” Trump said in the debate.
Biden interrupted to chime in: “Not true.”
Surveys show the idea is popular nationally and in swing states.
A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 67 percent of U.S. adults favor raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, while 33 percent oppose the idea. That includes majorities of all genders, races and ethnic backgrounds.
National polling by USA Today and Ipsos has found that public support for a higher minimum wage has grown since the pandemic hit: Americans supported the idea 65 percent to 26 percent in February, and the margin rose to 72 percent to 19 percent in August.
An August poll in the battleground state of Wisconsin by Marquette Law in August found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour was supported by a clear majority, 57 percent to 39 percent.
On a call Friday, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said the president “has been fighting for the wage earner — to get our economy reopened, to make sure we’re recovering from the pandemic as safely as possible.”
He criticized Biden’s proposals to transition to a clean-energy economy, saying they would cost jobs for workers in the oil and gas industry.
The Biden campaign’s digital director, Rob Flaherty, highlighted the most-searched terms on Twitter to knock Trump for raising issues about Biden’s family. He jested: “So you’re saying that spending most of the debate reciting breitbart headlines was *not* a good strategy?”