The War for the Veteran Vote in Florida

Florida is home to 1.6 million veterans, which is the second largest concentration of veterans in the U.S. after California. As a percentage of population Florida ranks number one.

In December 2008 ABC reported on how the veteran vote impacted the election of then Presidential candidate Barack Obama. Remembering that John McCain is a veteran the ABC column titled “The Veteran Vote – an Update” noted, “But the biggest surprise is for anyone who assumed a major tilt toward the Republican Party among veterans. Thirty-five percent of veterans voting in 2008 identified themselves as Democrats, 34 percent as Republicans (the rest were independents). That’s a striking change from 2004: Republican allegiance among veterans dropped from 41 percent then to 34 percent this year [2008]. Democrats gained 4 points, independents 3. What had been a 10-point Republican advantage over Democrats among veterans vanished.”

The war for the veterans in Florida is on with two groups vying for this coveted vote. In 2008 veterans nationally accounted for 14% of the total votes cast. Veterans do vote.

The two groups are Vote Vets and Concerned Veterans for America. Each is after the veteran vote in Florida, a key battle ground state and must win for both parties. The issues of concern by these organizations are as different as night from day. Vote Vets is linked to and supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Vote Vets website states, “While non-partisan, the group is the largest progressive organization of veterans in America.” Their primary focus during the 2012 election is to increase the minimum wage from the current $7.50 an hour to $10.00. Veterans benefits and military salaries are not tied to the minimum wage. Both are determined by Congress, which uses various metrics to determine increases or changes to co-payments for medical care, as an example.

Jeff Jacoby in his Boston Globe column “Minimum-wage laws are costly for the unemployed” reports on efforts by Democrat Senator Tom Harkin to raise the minimum wage. According to Mr. Jacoby, “Congress enacted the first federal minimum wage in 1938. A provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, it covered about 6 million workers and set a wage floor of 25 cents per hour. It also cost a lot people their jobs. The Labor Department reported that as many as 50,000 employees, mostly poor Southern blacks, were thrown out of work within two weeks of the law’s taking effect. In the months that followed, the carnage spread. ‘African Americans in the tobacco industry were particularly hard hit,’ wrote David Bernstein in his 2001 history of labor regulations and black employment. ‘In Wilson, N.C., for example, machines replaced two thousand African American tobacco stemmers in 1939.'” [Emphasis mine]

Mr. Jacoby provides the below chart in his column showing a nexus between raises in the minimum wage and rise in black teenage unemployment from 2002 to 2010.

Mr. Jacoby states, “Minimum-wage laws are typically thought of as a mandate on employers. In reality they constrain employees. As it stands now, the federal wage law tells workers that unless they can find a company willing to pay them at least $7.25 an hour, they can’t get a job. That may not seem like much of a barrier to [Iowa Democrat Senator Tom] Harkin, one of Congress’s wealthiest members, but it might as well be the Berlin Wall to an unskilled teen or young adult with no high-school diploma or employment history whose labor is only worth, say, $5.50 an hour. No matter how much that person might leap at the chance to work for what he’s worth, the minimum wage forbids it. Should Harkin’s bill become law, life will become even harder for those seeking entry-level employment.” [Emphasis mine]

Raising the minimum wage may harm Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. According to David Lerman from Bloomberg, “The unemployment rate for U.S. veterans who’ve served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increased last year, while the rate for non-veterans declined, the Labor Department reported yesterday. The jobless rate for veterans who were in service following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was 12.1 percent last year, up from 11.5 percent in 2010, the department’s data show. Among all non- veterans, 8.7 percent were jobless last year, down from 9.4 percent in 2010.”

While harmful to veterans seeking jobs, raising the minimum wage does get out the vote.

The discredited group ACORN successfully used the minimum wage issue in Florida in 2004. “In Red State Florida, Victory for Working People” John Atlas reported, “The decision for ACORN, which has chapters in 28 states, to invest heavily in a Florida campaign [to raise the minimum wage] was not made in haste. The group commissioned a statewide poll in November 2003 that found overwhelming support for increasing the state’s minimum wage, especially among low-income and minority residents … ACORN was betting that many low-income people, who might not otherwise register or vote, would do so to increase their pay, and once they went to the polls, they would vote overwhelmingly for a Democrat.” [Emphasis mine]

Mr. Atlas noted, “ACORN budgeted over $2 million for the campaign. In addition to a team of strategists, pollsters, fundraisers and a full-time coalition coordinator, the group deployed a field staff of 40 organizers, up to 60 canvassers, and over 2,000 volunteers. The field staff gathered signatures, registered 122,000 voters and implemented a get-out-the-vote plan that resulted in a net increase in turnout of 68,000 new voters in November. The campaign roused the interest of wealthy progressive donors, major Democratic party players, unions and well-financed anti-Bush groups smitten by the notion that helping the poor was not only an end in itself, but a way to dump Bush.” [Emphasis mine]

The same strategy is playing out today by Vote Vets and the SEIU in Florida. The added twist is this”veterans advocacy” organization with deep community organizing roots may actually harm veterans with its campaign to raise the minimum wage.

Mr Jacoby warns, “With the best intentions in the world, lawmakers cannot raise the value of anyone’s labor to $9.80 an hour (or $7.25 an hour, or even 25 cents an hour) merely by passing a law. Making it more expensive to hire workers who are just starting out doesn’t advance beginners’ prospects; it worsens them. Decades of economic research and empirical studies confirm what common sense should tell anybody: Boost the minimum wage beyond what low-skilled workers are worth, and more low-skilled workers will be priced out of a job.”