With Minimum Wage on State Ballots, PBS Pushes Increases

     Minimum wage increases will be on the ballot in six states on November 7. PBS’s “Now” took the opportunity to push for broad increases on its October 27 edition, showcasing worker Melone Peyton, who doesn’t even earn minimum wage.  


     Conveniently, David Brancaccio’s show left out conservative voices that might have contextualized Peyton’s situation – and added facts about the effects of a minimum wage increase.


     Brancaccio exuded sympathy as he interviewed Peyton, who receives government food stamps and day care assistance. She isn’t even a minimum wage earner; she makes $7 per hour – about 36 percent more than the federal minimum of $5.15. She claimed to have worked for half of her 30 years, but is still unable to afford housing and lives in a shelter.


     The host questioned Peyton about her decision to have so many children – she is pregnant with her fourth – but Brancaccio didn't push her on her answers. Peyton agreed with Brancaccio that life would be easier without so many children, but she said she would never have an abortion. Brancaccio never pointed out that the choice to have children starts with the choice to get pregnant. The father of Peyton’s children was neither mentioned nor made an appearance on the show.


     The 30-year-old Peyton isn’t an average minimum wage earner “who tends to be young” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A BLS report, “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2005,” stated that about half of minimum wage earners were under 25.

Making Assumptions, Lacking Facts


     Brancaccio’s report assumed the “spillover effect” was a given. The spillover effect is the theory that even those workers already making above the new proposed minimum would also receive a raise as a result of overall positive effects on the economy.


     But the California Economic Policy Institute released a study in July 2005 that called such an assumption into question. The study agreed that minimum wage increases may cause some spillover, but concluded those effects would not be directed toward the lowest-skilled workers or those with the lowest wages. The authors, Scott Adams and David Neumark, argued that an increased minimum wage would “induce substitution toward more-skilled workers.”


     In August 2006, another study published by economist David Macpherson at Florida State University addressed the proposed wage increase in Missouri, Peyton’s home state. The study outlined the negatives of a minimum wage increase, which will be presented to voters next week –

·         The wage increase is expected to cause 1,552 workers to lose their jobs.

·         The number of lost jobs would translate into a loss of $15.1 million in income.

·         The increase would raise labor costs in the state by an estimated $44.4 million.

·         Only an estimated one-sixth of those affected by the increase would be the sole earners for families with one or more children.


     The Business & Media Institute has previously reported on the negative effects of minimum wage increases, including Heritage Foundation labor analyst Tim Kane’s assessment that the minimum wage is the “worst economic law.” In 2005, Kane said “raising the minimum wage will hurt low-income workers, cost jobs, and hobble the American economy.”


     Brancaccio’s segment included an interview with Gary Marble, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, which opposed the increase. However, the host used the interview to undermine Marble’s argument. Marble presented facts that emphasized the economic impact of an increase, but Brancaccio followed his statements by playing on viewers’ emotions. Following Marble’s interview, he said, “Meanwhile, people like Melone Peyton – who struggle at the bottom end of the wage scale – are waiting.”


     Sara Howard, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, has not done much in the past to hide her bias, but Brancaccio didn’t acknowledge either her or her organization’s political leanings. In a press release dated July 27, 2006, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger stated, “Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Congress are using gimmicks and stall tactics to deny our lowest wage earners a needed raise.”


     The Oct. 14, 2006, issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Howard on a possible increase in the minimum wage: "The argument of job loss is just a myth. I think most people see raising the minimum wage as a common-sense step that should have been addressed a long time ago."


     When Brancaccio did ask questions of Howard they were softballs, such as, “What did your people see when they were out there asking people if they thought now is the time to mandate an increase in the minimum wage?” After letting Howard answer, Brancaccio answered his own question with, “We found people passionate about the issue when we followed Ameer Abdul-Rahman, who's registering voters in Springfield.” There was no mention of passion on the other side of the issue.