When I accepted “The Daily Show”’s invitation to be interviewed about my opposition to a minimum wage increase, I knew that I was walking into a trap. But given how counterproductive I know such an increase would be to those the law proposes to help, I took the risk anyway.
Of the more than four hours of taped discussion I conducted, the producers chose to only use about 75 seconds of my comments. Of those, my use of the words “mentally retarded” (when Samantha Bee asked me who might be willing to work for $2 per hour – a figure she suggested) has come to define the entire interview. Although I had no intention of offending anyone, I just couldn’t remember the politically correct term currently in use (it is “intellectually disabled”). Assuming she knew it, Bee could have prompted me with the correct term, but she chose not to. By including those comments in the final package, “The Daily Show” proved that they did not care who they offended, as long as they could make me look bad in the process. The volume of hate mail I have received in the show’s aftermath confirms their success on that front.
When asked the $2 per hour question, I responded that very few individuals would take a job at that pay, even if it were legal. In a free market, businesses compete for customers by keeping prices down, and for labor by keeping wages up. Any employer offering even low-skilled workers just $2 per hour would be outbid by others offering to pay more.
However I did suggest two groups of people who might be willing to work for $2 per hour. The first group -- which was edited out -- was the unpaid interns who tend to value work experience and connections more than pay. (In fact, “The Daily Show” staffer who booked me, and who was present during the interview, had been thrilled to start there as an unpaid intern). Since many interns work for free, $2 per hour would be an improvement. Some interns are even willing to pay to work. Since employers are afraid to hire them without pay for fear of violating labor laws or inviting lawsuits, they often hire young people working for college credit. These individuals are forced to pay college tuition to get a job they could have had for free had there been no minimum wage.
The other group was the intellectually disabled, who are in fact already exempt from the current minimum wage law by federal regulation. Although many have taken my support for this exemption as some sort of advocacy for modern slavery, I offered good reasons for the rule. While saying nothing about any person’s value as an individual or a human being, it is undeniable that the intellectually disabled have, in general, fewer marketable skills than the general population. Anyone arguing otherwise is just speaking from emotion. If an intellectually disabled person can’t perform work that produces a minimum wage level of output, then no employer seeking to make a profit could afford to pay that person the official minimum wage.
I further explained that since such individuals typically live with their parents or other caretakers, they are not working to support themselves or anyone else. They are working for the self-esteem associated with having a job -- the pride of working and making a contribution. Many of the jobs they perform may seem mundane to those of normal intelligence, but they are often the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. I pointed out that if the federal minimum wages were to apply to them, a great many of those opportunities would vanish. Others may disagree, but I believe a job for such a person at $2 per hour is better than no job at all.