Thursday, March 14, 2013

Busting Breitbart's "5 Minimum Wage Myths"

Some time ago, Mike Flynn posted an article outlining 5 alleged myths of the minimum wage. You can find the original article here

Now, I'm admittedly no journalist, and I certainly would not be confused with a top economist. But in all fairness, neither would the majority of people engaging in this debate. In the interest of fairness, though, I would like to present my categorical rebuttal to this piece:

Myth 1: Hiking wages for those at the lowest rung of the job market will boost the economy: Flynn's rebuttal here centers around the BLS number that only 4% of the US labor force makes the minimum wage. As these are government numbers, they would be pretty hard to argue, right?

Wrong! There's some spin going on here, and it is very, very deliberate. To start with, the right relies solely on those making EXACTLY minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour). This means if you've been there 3 months and now make $7.30, you don't qualify. Pretty good fuzzy math, really.

The strength of this argument is further undermined when you realize that 19 states have a state minimum wage that exceeds the federal minimum wage. This means they can conveniently be left off of Flynn's statistics, without noting the fact that the only reason the lower paid workers in these 19 states are making more than the federal minimum is because the federal minimum would be illegal.

Let's move on, shall we?

Myth 2: Minimum Wage Workers Are Poor: Flynn proceeds to tell us here that only 11% of workers who would benefit from a wage increase come from poor households. Over 63% of those who would gain are second or third wage earners; and over 43% are from households making more than 50% per year.

Which is nice, until you realize what the same numbers really say. Eleven per cent (that's better than one out of ten, folks!) of the workers are in poor households. This means they're working, they're contributing, they're doing things right...but they're still impoverished. And while that number should be slightly unnerving, it is worse to look at the 63% and realize that nearly 2/3 of minimum wage families are forced to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. And we won't even delve into the fact that the 43% of minimum wage earning households making more than $50K represents a plurality, and not even a simple majority.

Myth 3: Minimum Wage Workers Are Supporting a Family: The sad part about this one is, Flynn's numbers do not even support his own argument. He quickly points out that half of minimum wage workers are under 25, ignoring the obvious fact that half AREN'T. He further argues that among adult workers, 94% had a working spouse, and 50% of those had a spouse making more than $40K, as if those who don't fit either criteria are inconsequential. But again, his own numbers outline the lie: even if we callously disregard the 6% of adult minimum wage workers who do not have a working spouse, we again need to look at the fact that HALF of those have a spouse who makes less than $40K. It doesn't detail the income levels beyond that, but those are numbers significant enough to bear closer examination.

Myth 4: A federally mandated wage hike is the only way minimum wage workers get a raise:Flynn is again undone by his own numbers stating that nearly 2/3 of minimum wage workers receive a raise within the first 12 months on the job. Again let's set aside for the moment that those raises are generally 3-5% increases, making a difference of less than $20 a week, this means fully 1/3 of workers will not see a raise in the first 12 months on the job. And there are entire pockets of the country where employers pay as close to the minimum wage as they can while still being able to employ workers who won't drool on themselves. A federally mandated wage hike is the only way that the salaries of many of these workers will come close to holding ground against inflation.

Myth 5: A mandated wage hike is the best way to improve income for minimum wage workers who are poor: Astonishingly, here Flynn points to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is basically a subsidy for low income workers. While the EITC is a needed benefit, it bears mentioning that the hypocrisy of "small government" conservatives becomes apparent when they advocate subsidizing low income workers, rather than insisting on a fair wage. Tax subsidies are not the best way to improve income for minimum wage workers; requiring corporations to pay a wage that fairly compensates workers for their labor remains the best way to achieve that.

I am losing hope that we will ever see a minimum wage in this country that is indexed to inflation. But I do hope, and I can hope, that when this discussion comes to the forefront, the American people can see through the lies that keep wages artificially suppressed. Inflation happens whether the minimum wage is raised or not; raising the minimum wage only helps to ensure that the neediest workers are not starved out by the inflation, and that businesses are forced to properly calculate the cost of doing business in this country.