ELKHORN, WI — Raising the minimum wage would destroy the entry-level opportunities that young Americans need to start “climbing the ladder of life,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Thursday at a town hall meeting.
“The majority of these workers are younger people just getting into the workforce,” Ryan said. “What we don’t want to do is support ideas, especially in this kind of economy, which will reduce the availability of jobs, number one, but more importantly reduce the availability of jobs from the very people we want to get into jobs so they can start climbing that ladder of life, so they can get in and start working their way up and get the skills they need to earn a better job.” He added that his time working at McDonald’s as a young man helped “give me better training to keep moving on in life.”
Yet the majority of low-wage workers who would benefit from raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour are not in fact teenagers getting a foothold in the workforce, but rather grown-ups with rent, medical bills, and often children. Nearly 90 percent of these workers are older than 20. “The typical worker who would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015 looks nothing like the part-time, teen stereotype,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. “She is in her early thirties, works full-time, and may have a family to support.”
And in Ryan’s own state, 87 percent of workers affected by the proposed minimum wage hike are older than 20, while nearly a quarter-million children would see their family income rise thanks to a $10.10 minimum wage.
While fast food giants and Walmart love to argue that low-wage entry-level jobs are just a stepping stone to greater things, the numbers show they’re far more often a dead end. Just 9 percent of fast food workers are supervisors, and only 2.2 percent hold professional or managerial jobs. The vast majority are front-line workers who will stay in their entry-level positions indefinitely because advancement opportunities are so scarce.
Ryan also cited a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finding that there would be job losses if the wage were increased. But many economists don’t share Ryan’s confidence in that report, and there’s ample evidence to suggest that raising the wage could be good for jobs and the economy.