The debate over the minimum wage is usually pretty straight forward. For most on the left, the federal minimum is far too low and should be increased, expanding workers’ buying power and putting more money in struggling Americans’ pockets. For the most on the right, raising the minimum wage would cut into employers’ profits. Some Republicans have even called for the wage to be lowered to zero.
But in Virginia, where former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie is his party’s U.S. Senate nominee, voters have heard a new argument: working for the minimum wage is awesome. Gillespie told a Virginia Beach gathering that states and municipalities can do as they please, but he’d oppose a federal wage increase if elected.
“A lot of those jobs are second-earners in the family. A lot of them are first time workers, it’s the first job they’ve ever had. A minimum wage job is where you learn to get to work on time. It’s where you learn the great feeling at the end of getting that paycheck and knowing you gave an honest week’s work. It’s where you learn the social aspect of work, where you play on a softball team or go for a beer after work.”
Wow, that sounds great, doesn’t it?
Alex Wagner’s on-air response yesterday rings true: “The great feeling of spending your hard-earned dough on a beer after work – a beer which, if you’re making the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, might cost you exactly as much as your hourly take-home pay.”
Gillespie’s vision of Americans having fun earning poverty wages is certainly condescending, but it’s also based on unfortunate misconceptions. The suggestion that these workers are teenagers, learning the value of a buck for the first time, is wrong – the reality is the vast majority of Americans who work for the minimum wage are over the age of 20. About half of them work full time.
If Gillespie or his allies can explain how American adults are supposed to live, pay bills, and maybe help support a family on poverty wages, all while playing on the softball team and grabbing an after-work beer, I’m eager to hear about it.