Real issues, bogus commentary

Our wage structure in this country does not necessarily value work, and when we have an artificially low minimum wage, neither does public policy.

An Eastern Iowa radio host recently ran a recording of Senator Tom Harkin noting — correctly — that people at the minimum wage work “essential and often difficult jobs.”

Alone on the air and safe from any retort by the senator or a minimum-wage worker, the host countered: “There is not a minimum wage job in the world that is a, quote, difficult job.”

Said the host: “There’s a reason they are minimum wage jobs. They are easy.” Strong emphasis on the “easy.”

The facts say otherwise. The Department of Labor provides information about people working at or below the minimum wage, now frozen at $7.25 in Iowa for almost seven years.

Look specifically at the “leisure and hospitality” sector — which includes low-wage restaurant and hotel/motel jobs.

  • Over half (55 percent) of all workers in hourly jobs at or below the minimum wage are in the leisure and hospitality sector.
  • About 1 in 5 hourly workers in that sector (19 percent) are at or below the minimum wage.

These are not jobs of “leisure and hospitality,” as a cavalier dismissal of their being “easy” might imply. They are jobs that provide “leisure and hospitality” to others, and they’re hard work: in kitchens, and laundries, and cleaning restrooms, and hustling meals and drinks for customers who might or might not leave a decent tip. In fact, these jobs are arguably harder than gabbing for a couple of hours on a radio show.

According to those official numbers, some 3.3 million workers in the United States toil at jobs paying at or below the minimum wage. Note: This figure does not include those who would be affected by an increase because they make more than $7.25 an hour but less than the proposed $10.10.

Probably a better observation about the issue is that our wage structure in this country does not necessarily value work, and when we have an artificially low minimum wage, neither does public policy.

So, whatever you say about raising the minimum wage, start with the facts. Click here for an IPP fact sheet on the issue.

Owen-2013-57 Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director, The Iowa Policy Project