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Real Faces of the Minimum Wage

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.

Corporate 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 50’s 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 7 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, Frau Merkel!”)

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.

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.)

And 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.

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