For Republican legislator, minimum wage is just kids’ stuff4/3/2013
In Mark Segebart’s world, the minimum wage is a quaint notion, something along the lines of an allowance. Make your bed. Clean your room. Flip some burgers after school, and you’ll get $7.25 an hour, enough to take your best girl to the sock hop with some spare change to double-straw a milkshake.
The minimum wage, according to Segebart, a Republican state senator from Vail who represents a vast swath of western Iowa, just doesn’t have any place in adult discussions, in the business of raising families and paying utility bills. No one could or should expect to work for that amount, right? It’s just, well, kids’ stuff.
“If you want to set minimum wage to be a living wage that you think everybody, that’s a place you get a job and you’re going to live on the minimum wage, that’s one philosophy — it’s not mine,” Segebart said at a recent legislative forum. “I think the minimum wage is a starting wage for young workers that are untrained and unskilled and are just starting into the workforce, and it’s a place to start. A lot of businesses hire those young people to start out at that wage. It’s certainly not a living wage, and I don’t think it was ever intended to be a living wage.”
Segebart, an Iowa State University-educated farmer, who, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, has received $205,204.96 in federal farm subsidies from 1995 to 2011, mostly through the corn-commodity program, isn’t processing the notion that many people are seeking to make ends meet in minimum-wage jobs.
Perhaps he should go to Burger King. In all likelihood, the employees there would get his Whopper-and-fries request correct at the drive-thru — even if they don’t serve up answers on low-wage life his way.
Jeremy Theulen, a Burger King assistant manager, said the starting wage at the fast-food chain in Carroll is $7.25 an hour (minimum wage) to $8.
It’s gotta be just a bunch of teen-aged students working there, right?
“There are really not many high school kids who work here,” Theulen said. “It’s probably like late 20s.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a 40-year champion of increasing the minimum wage, recently said in Des Moines that 340,000 Iowans would see their paychecks increase under a minimum-wage increase he supports. Of those Iowa workers, 60 percent are women, 82 percent are adults (not teenagers), 22 percent are parents, 50 percent have family income under $40,000 and 45 percent have some college education or more, The Des Moines Register reported.
Harkin supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three increments of 95 cents — and then tying it to changes in the cost of living. He’s crafted legislation that would do just that.
As the Republican Party considers its future fate with women voters, elected officials like Segebart may want to rethink their patronizing attitudes about the minimum wage.
“Many of the members of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce were once employees themselves,” Margot Dorfman, the CEO of that organization, said during a news conference on Harkin’s legislation. “They know that the typical low-wage worker is an adult woman, and they know that raising the minimum wage helps women workers.”
The minimum wage today pays $15,000 per year — $3,000 below the poverty level for a single mom raising two kids. Moving to $10.10 an hour would boost an annual working income for employees paid at that level to $21,000.
Segebart’s dreams are lovely and laudable. We should live in a world where only teenagers have to work in beginning-salaried jobs.
And in rural Iowa, with many small businesses and lower costs of living, an increase in the minimum wage is debatable public policy. Should we be dragged into measures aimed at larger urban populations? Those are fair challenges to Harkin’s Fair Minimum Wage Act.
But to cavalierly suggest that no adults can possibly be working for minimum wages, or to diminish their worth for doing so — while at the same time resisting Medicaid expansion as Segebart does — reveals a state senator whose tin ear for the struggling classes of Iowa men and women is rivaled only by the inconsistency in his grandstanding expectations for them. CV
Douglas Burns, a co-owner of The Carroll Daily Times Herald, is a fourth-generation Iowa journalist who offers columns for Cityview.