Weather Forecast


Editorial: State shouldn’t throw minimum wage stones

When Minnesota House members go back into session and debate raising the minimum wage, the lawmakers’ interns will be doing some of the work. After all, the House prides itself on its interns’ capabilities; as the program’s website notes, interns “are asked to handle a wide variety of duties essential to the legislative process,” including “conducting research on specific issues, monitoring and reporting on committee meetings for legislators, researching and drafting responses to constituent inquiries, writing press releases” and so on.

But as the interns go about this researching, drafting and writing, some of it in support of raising the minimum wage, they’ll be doing so while getting wages that are considerably less than the minimum.

In fact, their wages are zero. Interns don’t get a cent.

“The Minnesota House of Representatives offers interns a rewarding and volunteer-based educational experience,” the House Internship Program’s website goes on to describe.

“Currently, we do not provide interns with a stipend or compensation for their services.” And given the fact that the Minnesota Senate calls its internships an “education program” that students undertake for college credit, it seems likely that Senate interns go unpaid, too.

The point here is not that the legislative interns should be paid. Unpaid internships give students valuable experience, exactly as promised. That’s why the programs consistently get more applications than there are positions available.

Instead, the point simply is this:

Why are lawmakers debating a costly mandate for private industry – namely, raising the minimum wage – while they’re refusing to take on the same burden themselves?

The answer is obvious. And it presents in microcosm all of the arguments against mandating a big and sudden increase in the minimum wage.

For the reasons why few legislative internship programs offer paid internships are clear:

First, because the lawmakers don’t have to pay. As mentioned, they get plenty of qualified applicants who’ll volunteer.

Second, because lots of interns are needed to fully staff and support a legislative session.

And third, because if lawmakers were forced to pay, the big expense would mean they’d have to hire many fewer interns.

That would benefit the paid interns while hurting all the others, by robbing those unlucky others of meaningful and personally beneficial work.

This is exactly the effect that raising the minimum wage would have, as predicted by none other than the Congressional Budget Office and as recently as last week.

As North Dakota’s experience has shown, the best way to boost wages is to unleash the economy to create jobs. The second-best way probably is to subsidize wages through bipartisan programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The worst way is simply to command that wages rise and then expect whole industries and workforces to cope. In fact, that’s such an obviously counterproductive method that lawmakers aren’t even willing to impose it on themselves