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Arguably the most important conservative economist of the last 50 years went on television on Tuesday to argue that the poor, people of color, and other marginalized people aren’t “worth” $15 an hour.
Art Laffer, an economist in the Reagan White House, appeared on Fox News to discuss the terrifying prospect of raising the minimum wage for fast-food workers to somewhere above the poverty line. Laffer is the brains behind supply-side or “trickle down” economics, which has been Republican orthodoxy since the Reagan administration, and is the namesake of the “Laffer curve.”
The Tuesday segment centered around last week’s news that fast-food giant McDonald’s is testing automated drive-thru ordering at Chicago-area restaurants, which former CEO Ed Rensi told Fox earlier this week would lead to a loss of jobs. Rensi blamed the move on the push to increase the minimum wage.
“For those people... who are coming into the labor workforce brand fresh, not old-timers who’ve been around for a while—the poor, the minorities, the disenfranchised, those with less education, young people who haven’t had the job experience—these people aren’t worth $15 an hour in most cases,” Laffer said.
Laffer then portrayed fast-food jobs as a sort of apprenticeship, rather than difficult, demanding jobs in and of themselves. In reality, just 30 percent of fast food workers are teenagers, a 2013 analysis by the Center for Economic Policy and Research found.
“When you have a $15 an hour minimum wage, [workers] don’t get that first job, they don’t get the requisite skills to earn above the minimum wage. And after a few years they become unemployable, and after they become unemployable, they become hostile,” Laffer continued.
“I love the technology, but the technology is replacing jobs for these people, and it’s a killer for people who need the help the most.”
Laffer’s comments understandably drew immediate outrage on Twitter.
“Why do you believe Americans who are minorities or who are poor are not worth $15 an hour, but Americans who are white or who are not poor are worth $15 an hour?” California Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted.
In 2019, former President Donald Trump awarded Laffer the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. “Few people in history have revolutionized economic thought and policy like Dr. Art Laffer,” Trump said at a White House ceremony.
“Today, our nation is stronger, our people more prosperous, and the world a much better place because of the brilliance and boldness of Dr. Arthur Laffer.”
In May, faced with increasing competition in a tight labor market, fast-casual Mexican chain Chipotle announced plans to raise their average wage to $15 an hour by the end of June, saying hourly workers would make between $11 and $18 per hour. McDonald’s followed that up by saying it would raise its wages by an average of 10 percent and bring entry-level workers to at least $11 per hour, although that change only affects the corporation’s 650 company-owned restaurants, which make up just 5 percent of stores total.
Last month, fast-food workers in more than a dozen U.S. cities aligned with the Fight for $15 campaign went on strike to demand the company raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“I have to work at McDonald’s and six other delivery jobs and I shouldn’t have to work paycheck to paycheck to survive—no parent should,” Ieshia Townsend, a McDonald’s worker in Chicago said at a rally. “[A $15 minimum wage] needs to be in effect today. You have the funds to do it.”