By Rick Patelunas
Rep. Tom Rice has been in office three terms, nearly seven years now. Rice says his campaigns are about jobs, jobs, jobs. He agrees with President Trump’s claims that the economy is better than it’s ever been. They argue that the Republican tax cut has worked wonders and they deserve credit for the continued economic expansion and low unemployment.
The 7th District Continues to Struggle
It’s hard to see any of that in the 7th District. As of June, the unemployment rate in all eight counties of the District was higher than the state average. None of the counties had an unemployment rate lower than the national average.
Myrtle Beach Online reports that a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report concludes that wage earners in Horry County are paid less than their counterparts in other large counties. The average Horry County worker earned $602 a week during the first quarter of 2019, while the state average was $901 a week. Outside of South Carolina, Horry County lagged Virginia Beach were the average weekly wage is $834.
Rice’s jobs, jobs, jobs and wonderful economy have by-passed the 7th District. The trickle-down benefits of the Republican tax cut didn’t happen. And credit for the economy? The expansion began in June 2009 and unemployment has been declining since 2010, long before Trump took office. Under Trump, talk of a stalled economy and recession are moving to the forefront.
Rice’s Remedy Doesn’t Make Sense
Rice’s remedy is to build I-73. The basis for the argument is that manufacturing jobs are good-paying jobs and the reason there are no manufacturing jobs in the area is that there is no interstate to move the manufactured goods. “…Companies are not going to come to a place where they don’t have the ability to move their product. It’s common sense.” Rice explained. Build it and they will come.
Rice’s logic defies common sense. In July, manufacturing activity hit a three-year low following a seven-year low in construction investment in June. Manufacturing job growth has slowed, manufacturing workhours are down, and the manufacturing workweek is shorter. The last points are not surprising when manufacturing investment is becoming more focused on automation and artificial intelligence to replace workers.
Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis echoed Rice’s call for manufacturing jobs. She said Horry-Georgetown Technical College trains students for manufacturing jobs, but those jobs don’t exist in the area.
But Davis also noted two other important points that weaken Rice’s logic. One, it’s hard to tell how many firms have not located to the area because there is no interstate. Two, low wages are attractive to firms considering Horry County as a destination.
Assuming I-73 is built, the benefits are questionable, especially if they depend on a growing manufacturing base. Any benefits that result from I-73 will not be realized until sometime in the future. In the meantime, there is a remedy that will directly and immediately help workers, their families and the community. Raise the minimum wage.
Raising the Minimum Wage is a Real Solution
I wrote about the benefits of raising the minimum wage previously, but a quick summary is helpful. Rice cites a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report for his objections to raising the minimum wage. Rice uses CBO numbers out of context and leaves out important points to mislead the reader towards the wrong conclusion. A main Republican talking point is that raising the minimum wage results in increased unemployment, but studies show that raising the minimum wage has little impact on the employment level. Moreover, raising the minimum wage has been shown to decrease crime, lower poverty, lead to fewer suicides and improve worker productivity.
To the extent there are benefits from I-73, they would not be diminished by increasing the minimum wage. Increasing the minimum wage would not subtract from any I-73 benefits, it would add to them.
In his comments on the BLS report, Rice acknowledges that the local economy relies on the tourist industry. The tourist industry relies on the minimum wage, so increasing the minimum wage would help the local economy. When tourist industry wages improve, workers spend their money with local retailers, grocery stores, and car dealers.
Time for Change
The BLS report highlights the continuing economic problems in District 7. Nothing has changed and Rice has no new ideas. I-73 is not new and it is not a cure-all. It’s not new that he opposes improving lives by raising the minimum wage.
A fourth term? Not if you want improvement. Think about the conditions in Horry County and the 7th District. Then, do your civic duty and vote Rice out of office.
It’s time to Take a Stand.