When policymakers debate increasing the minimum wage, there’s nothing wrong with them drawing on their personal experiences when making a decision. Some members of Congress, however, really aren’t good at it.
A couple of years ago, for example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued against raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour because, when she was a teenager, she made $2.15 an hour and she “appreciated that opportunity.”
What Blackburn didn’t realize is that inflation exists – when she made $2.15 an hour as a teen, in inflation-adjusted terms, that was over $12 an hour in today’s money. The Tennessee Republican was trying to argue against a minimum-wage hike, but she ended up doing the opposite.
A related problem popped up over the weekend, when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on “60 Minutes” and CBS’s Scott Pelley asked if Congress might increase the “federal minimum wage.” The Republican leader replied:
“It’s a bad idea. I’ve had every kinda rotten job you can imagine growin’ up and gettin’ myself through school. And I wouldn’t have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing [a] higher minimum wage. You take the bottom rungs off the economic ladder.”
Again, there’s nothing wrong with Boehner, like Blackburn, drawing upon his personal experiences. The trouble is that Boehner, like Blackburn, is flubbing the details.
Sam Stein set the record straight:
[W]hen Boehner was first taking on those “rotten jobs,” the minimum wage was actually at its historic high. And when the wage later dipped relative to inflation, Congress passed a series of hikes that raised it some more.According to Department of Labor statistics, the minimum wage stood at $1.60 an hour in 1968 – the highest it has ever been when adjusted for inflation…. At first, Boehner went into sales – selling plastics, specifically – after his brief stint with the Navy ended. In 1971, he enrolled in Xavier University. According to a recent Politico profile, Boehner took a number of odd jobs while attending school there, among them “a series of humbling janitorial and construction jobs.” He would graduate in 1977.
On “60 Minutes,” Boehner expressed relief that the government didn’t keep “imposing” a higher minimum wage at the time, but in reality, the government actually did keep “imposing” a higher minimum wage, raising in 1974, 1975, and again in 1976 – just as Boehner was working through college.
And adjusted for inflation, those minimum wages had greater purchasing power than the minimum wage now. If Boehner looks back at that era fondly, he has no reason to create tougher conditions for low-wage workers now.
Keep the political context in mind: the debate about the minimum wage has been ongoing for quite a while, it was a major issue in last year’s elections, and the Speaker no doubt expects questions about the policy during interviews like these. But as of the weekend, his go-to talking point is demonstrably wrong.