Real Faces of the Minimum Wage

minimum wage workersCorporate interests and their elected representatives have created a world of illusion in order to resist paying a decent wage to working Americans. They’d have us believe that minimum-wage workers are teens from ’50s TV sitcoms working down at the local malt shoppe.

It’s a retro-fantasy where corporate stinginess creates minority jobs, working parents can’t possibly be impoverished, and nobody gets hurt except kids who drive dad’s convertible and top up their allowances with a minimum-wage job slinging burgers.

But then, you probably need to resort to fantasy arguments when you’re arguing against a minimum-wage increase supported by nearly three-quarters of the voting public.

Here’s the truth: Most minimum-wage workers are adults, the majority of them are women, and many are parents who are trying to raise their children on poverty wages.

The Facts

Minimum wage workers are adults.

Nearly 80 percent of the workers who would be directly affected by a minimum wage increase are adults, as seen in an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. When you include those who would be indirectly affected that figure becomes more than 92 percent.

Less than 16 percent of workers who would be affected by President Obama’s minimum-wage proposal are teenagers.

Minimum wage workers are parents.

Many of those workers are parents. More than seven million children — nearly one out of every 10 kids in the United States — have parents whose income would go up under a new minimum wage.  When you count the parents whose wages would be indirectly affected, that rises to more than 11 million (or roughly one in six) children whose households would benefit from the increase.

Most minimum-wage workers are women.

That’s not something the right wants to emphasize.  Other than formally declaring itself “anti-woman,” there’s not much more the GOP can do to lose the female vote.  It certainly doesn’t want people to notice that this is one more policy that disproportionately harms women.

The Fantasy

This may not be a Leave It to Beaver world, but there are plenty of real-life Eddie Haskells. Remember Eddie, the unctuous and untrustworthy high-school self-promoter? Think Mitt Romney — who supported raising the minimum wage, at least in principle, until he began a Presidential campaign which was funded by his fellow millionaires and dependent on today’s radical right. Then he reversed himself quicker than a fella could say “You look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver!”

Romney argued that the minimum wage should be tied, not to productivity or executive gains, but to world indicators. That would create a global wage race to the bottom, one that hurts everyone except the wealthiest corporate leaders worldwide.  That’s the point, of course. (“You look lovely today, FrauMerkel!”)

Last month Republicans in Congress rejected a proposal that would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10. They’ve also indicated they would reject the president’s more modest proposal for a $9.00 minimum.

True to form, they keep trotting out that tired old “malt shoppe” argument.  Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, for example, said she opposed a higher minimum wage because “you’re going to exclude a lot of younger workers.”

Remember, more than eight out of ten workers affected by a minimum wage hike are adults.

The Dirt

When it comes to the Right and the minimum wage, it’s not all malted milks and sock hops. There’s also their much-beloved fantasy of the minimum wage as “racist.”  Seriously. It’s a dirty argument to make — but then, there’s a lot of money at stake.

5 Facts About Minimum Wage Roy Edroso is one of a hardy band of writers whose beat includes the ever-growing body of “right-wing lit.” (We owe them a debt of gratitude. They go spelunking in the dark caves of the human spirit so that we don’t have to.) Edroso points us to Jonah Goldberg’s assertion that the minimum wage’s original backers were racists who supported it specifically because it harms black people.

Bizarrely enough, this is a common right-wing strategem.  The Wall Street Journal even calls an increased minimum wage “The Minority Youth Unemployment Act.”  While it’s touching to note the editors’ new-found solicitude toward nonwhite kids, they’re ignoring the fact that the vast majority of minimum-wage workers aren’t “youth.”

They aren’t minorities, either. Awkwardly enough for race-baiters like Goldberg and the Journal, most minimum-wage workers are white.  There are more minorities among minimum-wage earners (who are 57.9 percent white) than in the overall workforce (which is 67.9 percent white). But that doesn’t support the “race” arguments against raising the minimum wage.

The Trip

Neither do the economic analyses, unless you rely on the highly selective economic studies employed by the Journal and other anti-minimum-wage advocates.  Some rely on “meta-studies,” or analyses of earlier studies, which selective pick and choose from earlier works. Others rely on the work of economists with a pronounced ideological bent to the right.

The short answer to their job-creation argument is this: The minimum wage has dropped 30 percent in real dollars since 1968. Where are the jobs?

Meanwhile, the right keeps projecting its liquid illusions onto the walls of their political reality like a low-rent psychedelic show in… well, in 1968, when the minimum wage was much higher and the economy was doing much better than it is today. (The official unemployment rate that year was 3.6 percent.)

Here’s another mind-bending image: We’re told that raising the minimum wage would harm small companies — but most low-wage employees work for large corporations.

We’re also told that employers can’t afford to raise their pay, but these corporations are experiencing record-level profits. (We deal with these last two arguments in greater detail here.)

rj-eskowAnd so the debate rages on, fueled by the cheap hallucinogenic deceptions of the corporate-funded right. Corporate profits continue to soar. CEO pay keeps skyrocketing. Suburban skylines are being reshaped by the megamansions of our New Gilded Age.

And meanwhile the Real Faces of the Minimum Wage — the mothers, fathers, the young and the old — struggle to survive and raise their children in an increasingly harsh world, far from the media spotlight and invisible to the powerful interests arrayed against them.

Richard “RJ” Eskow

Republished from Huffington Post with the author’s permission.

Sunday, 21 April 2013


  1. Ryder says

    Well, the thing about all of this minimum wage talk is that it was all predicted.

    Long, long ago some of the more forward thinking people among us realized a couple of important things:

    1 – You can’t actually change the minimum wage.

    2 – The minimum wage is, and will always be: Zero.

    3 – There are more people earning the REAL minimum wage than ever.

    They also correctly predicted that the minimum wage would kill off jobs for youth. It used to be a good idea to hire youths with no experience whatsoever, and pay them a starter wage… but if employers are expected to pay the full minimum wage, then they need to up the requirements… an adult, who is not encumbered by school, who is more likely to have their own reliable transportation, who is going to be more stable and likely to stay long term.

    Why pay an inexperienced kid, adult wages? Might as well get an actual adult.

    Which is of course what employers have done.

    The result is catastrophic. The largest job training “program” this nation ever had was the hiring of youth into their first jobs at starter wages + on the job training.

    Youth now earn the REAL minimum wage: zero.

    This leaves youths on the streets with too much time on their hands, which is a terrible waste of potential, and worse, they miss out on free training and learning adult levels of responsibility. Instead, they are getting into trouble of every sort.

    The Federal Minimum wage has essentially tossed youths out on the streets.

    Then they become 18, and desperate for work… adults with no training or experience. NOW they can land the minimum wage jobs… but minus the skills they SHOULD have had with youth jobs, they are now overpaid… delivering far less then they should be, for the wages paid.

    This puts pressures on jobs to find cheaper labor overseas, as well as driving up the costs of all products and services at home… which of course makes their minimum wage jobs all the less effective. They have to spend more in order to pay the massive amounts of unskilled adults that show up for work after their 18th birthday.

    In a better world, youth would find it MUCH easier to find honest work… getting paid less, but being given free training so that they actually become worth real wages by the time they are 18. A better world sees fewer kids on the streets, with fewer kids in the kinds of trouble found on them. This would mean lowering our costs for prisons and the courts system… and it’s incalculable how much better all our lives would be by laying out a productive life path for youths, as opposed to spending their teen years in the streets.

    Our prisons are FULL with inmates that got on the wrong path early…

    And if an employer is going to take the risk of illegally paying someone LESS than the minimum wage… why take the risk with a kid? Better to pay an illegal worker from Mexico, for example… who knows the score… will take low wages… get paid under the table, and not pay taxes.

    All the minimum wage does for us is put kids on the wrong path in life, produce incompetent adult workers, or illegal foreign workers, and pushes the price of goods and services up, or jobs overseas.

    (I know about the latter, as that is what I did in my company)

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