Written by John Phelan | August 16, 2017

Keith Ellison demands a $15 minimum wage but doesn’t pay his interns

Economists have a notion called ‘revealed preference‘. Simply put, this says that you can deduce someone’s utility function (a measure of their preferences over a set of goods and services) by working backwards from what they spend their money on. Since its emergence in 1948, it has proved a useful tool for economists.

Do as I say, not as I do

Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison has been very vocal in his support for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

He was one of the cosponsors of the ‘Raise the Wage Act‘ in Congress, which sought to increase the federal minimum to $15 in seven years. In June, he took to the pages of the Star Tribune to declare

At the end of the day, raising wages is about basic human dignity. Nobody working full time should live in poverty, struggling to put food on the table or worrying about not being able to pay the light bill.

Our country is ready, and Minneapolis is ready to be a leader on this crucial issue facing people like Maggie who deserve so much more. As we take this important step addressing the growing divide in our country, let’s not leave anyone behind. All workers, whether they receive tips or not, deserve one fair wage of $15 an hour. [Emphasis added]

So cock-a-hoop was Rep. Ellison when Minneapolis City Council voted to raise its minimum wage to $15, that he was moved to song

But talk, and singing, is cheap. How do Rep. Ellison’s feelings about wages manifest themselves when he has to pay them?

According to a report from the Employment Policy Institute, Rep. Ellison pays his interns a wage of $0. He is not alone in this rank hypocrisy. According to the EPI,

at least 95 percent of U.S. House and Senate cosponsors of recently introduced $15 federal minimum wage legislation hire interns who earn no wage at all. In total, 174 of the 184 “Raise the Wage Act” cosponsors and primary sponsors hire unpaid interns.

In the Senate, Senators Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, Chris Murphy and 20 other cosponsors hire unpaid interns. Of those that do offer a stipend, Senator Bernie Sanders is the only member who pays an hourly wage. However, Senator Sanders’ office only pays interns $12 an hour, short of his $15 proposal. In the House of Representatives, Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters and 145 other cosponsors do not pay their interns. Only 9 members from both chambers offer some form of a stipend, representing 5 percent of cosponsors.

It is very easy to stand in a legislature or go on TV and radio and demand that other people do this or that with their money. It is even easier to do so under the cloak of ‘fairness’. But people are never more honest than when they spend their own money. That tells us what people like Rep. Ellison really think about low pay.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.

John Phelan

John Phelan is an Economist at the Center of the American Experiment.
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