In an attempt to discredit Senator John Kerry's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $7 per hour, Linda Chavez -- FOX News Channel contributor, former Labor secretary nominee, and author of Crown Forum's June release Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics -- misstated the facts about who earns the minimum wage and overstated the current federal minimum wage.
Chavez was a guest on CNBC's Dennis Miller June 18:
CHAVEZ: We are a productive enough country that most people who are in minimum wage jobs are there temporarily. It takes time to climb that ladder, they may be immigrants, and after a few years in this country they'll climb higher, or they may be young people who will move onto better things. ... The problem with raising the minimum wage is if you make the minimum wage beyond what the market really will bear, then you'll end up having employers hiring fewer people, and so you'll have people earning a little bit more money in those jobs, but you'll have fewer of those jobs. So it ends up hurting people, and it ends up hurting blacks and Latinos the most, and young people.
Statistics do not support Chavez's apparent profile of minimum wage workers as young, immigrants, or racial and ethnic minorities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, in 2003, 61.1 percent of minimum wage earners were 20 years old or older. BLS does not provide data on the number of immigrants who earn the minimum wage, but statistics do indicate that 77.2 percent of people working at the prevailing federal minimum wage are white.
Chavez's contention that raising the minimum wage would have a negative impact on job creation is directly refuted by a recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report that "failed to find any systematic, significant job loss" associated with past minimum wage increases. Chavez's assertion that raising the minimum wage "ends up hurting blacks and Latinos the most" is similarly rebutted by EPI's conclusion: "A disproportionate share of minorities would benefit from a minimum wage increase." While African Americans comprise 12.9 percent of the hourly-wage workforce, for example, they make up 19.3 percent of minimum wage earners.
When host Dennis Miller asked Chavez what the actual minimum wage currently is, Chavez didn't know:
CHAVEZ: You know, I don't know what it is, it's $5-something, $5.65, something like that an hour.
In reality, the current federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, where it has stood for the past seven years -- the second-longest span of time that the minimum wage has gone unchanged since its implementation in 1938. At the current rate, a full-time worker earns approximately $10,712 a year.