TCS Daily

Super-Sized Strawman

By Stuart K. Hayashi - June 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Morgan Spurlock is at it again.

Capitalizing on his fame from his Oscar-nominated film "Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock has gained a "reality" series on the FX channel. The premise of the show, Thirty Days, is that Spurlock will try to live according to some new lifestyle over a month-long period.

In the June 15 premiere, Spurlock and his fiancée taped themselves trying to live on minimum-wage pay. The rules of this televised game, as summarized on the Fans of Reality TV website, were:

        1)     They will both work minimum wage jobs.
        2)     They will each begin with the equivalent of one week's worth
                of minimum wage pay. This equates to $206, or $178.47 after 
                taxes. Ouch.
        3)     They have to freeze their credit cards and accounts and leave 
                all their money behind. They empty their wallets into a box and 
                Morgan retains only his driver's license and ACLU 
                membership card.

Predictably, the couple had a rough time, as evidenced by this episode summary from the "Fans of Reality TV" website:

On Day 30, the couple sits at the table and tallies up their finances, counting the money they've saved and adding up what they still owe for utilities and rent. The result is that thanks to medical bills, they are in debt to the tune of three months' pay. The harsh truth is that although they lived in a very cheap apartment, never turned down a job, and got all of their belongings from a free store, it was impossible to get by and not acquire a large debt -- even for two healthy, young, educated, non-minority individuals. As they pack up their meager belongings and leave their apartment for the last time, they are both very sad to know that so many others have to go on living this way.

The implication is that many families suffer as a result of the minimum wage being so low. Ergo, there ought to be a double-digit "living wage."

A perusal of the reactions posted on the Fans of Reality TV website amply demonstrates that Spurlock got his point across:

"[T]his was deep. I shed a few tears now and then realizing what so many families in this "rich" country go through on a daily basis. . . I think this show should be required watching for everyone in America, particularly all our US senators and representatives."

Indeed, many left-wingers enjoy spreading the notion that there are many U.S. households in which the highest-income-earner scrounges by on minimum wage. In the Tuesday, March 29 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser, one op-ed sobbed over a "minimum-wage worker trying to feed a family on $6.25 an hour."

When Spurlock and his ilk go on and on about how a household cannot survive long-term on mere minimum wage, they make a strawman argument.

It's untrue that the majority of minimum-wage-earners go on making such low wages for years and years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63 percent of workers who make the minimum wage or less receive raises that put them above the minimum-wage level within one year of employment. Only 15 percent of workers still earn the minimum wage after a period of three years.

Are there teeming masses of starving minimum-wage earners throughout the nation? Actually, minimum-wage-earners comprise only 3.0 percent of all workers paid by the hour in the United States and only 1.8 percent of American wage and salary earners .

A great portion of minimum wage-earners are young people -- more than business-bashing activists would have you believe. "Just three out of 10 of those earning minimum wage are youths," writes left-wing columnist Mark Shields. "Seventy percent of minimum-wage earners are adults ages 20 or older." Shields's use of the word youths is misleading.

It's true that 27.5 percent of minimum-wage-earners are sixteen- to nineteen years old. But it's equally true that those ranging in ages sixteen to twenty-four make up 52.6 percent of minimum-wage workers.

According to a July 2004 study by Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser, only 5.3 percent of U.S. minimum-wage-earners come from households that are below the official U.S. poverty line. Some 40 percent of U.S. minimum-wage-earners live in households where the total yearly income is at least triple the maximum amount of income a household can receive and still be classified as being below the poverty line. And 63 percent of those who earn the minimum wage are not the highest income-earner in their household.

Finally, over 82 percent of minimum-wage-earners are childless or are not the highest income-earner of their household.

Contrary to what may be assumed there is no necessary correlation between a country having a minimum wage and having a high average standard of living. Hong Kong has no minimum wage, yet it has both a higher per-capita income and a lower unemployment rate than many wealthy countries that do have minimum wages, such as Finland, France, Spain, and Italy.

But don't expect facts and figures to sway Mr. Spurlock. The Naderites will be content with Spurlock's anecdotal schlockumentary about his isolated experience, and will happily go on talking as if the majority of the U.S. population is a proletarian class forced to work for minimum wage until death.

Stuart K. Hayashi is an assistant editor at MooreLies and the founder of The Fiftieth Star. He can be reached at


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