Failing At Life: An Open Letter to Erick Erickson from a Minimum Wage Worker

Hello, Erick.  

I'm writing today to address your recent comments regarding people making the minimum wage.  While filling in host for Rush Limbaugh's radio show on Thursday, you said: 

The minimum wage is mostly people who failed at life and high school kids. Seriously, look. I don’t mean to be ugly with you people. What? So my producer from my show is in here and he’s just staring at me, can’t believe I said this. If you’re a 30-something-year-old person and you’re making minimum wage you’ve probably failed at life.

As someone who is just under four months away from officially failing at life, I feel that I'm qualified to address your statement regarding minimum wage workers.  


First off, Erick, I would like to point out that I'm one of the lucky ones.  At age twenty-nine, I am starting my second career so I've been fortunate in that I've been able to put aside some money for this career change.  At a time where half of millennials have a net worth under $10,400, I was fortunate enough to come into contact with a financial planner my first year in the workplace and develop a long-term financial plan.  As difficult as the transition has been to receiving half of what I had been receiving in my previous profession, I know that I have the failsafes in place to survive while I purse an entry-level position in a field that I truly feel is my calling.  

The vast majority of minimum wage workers aren't so fortunate.

Unlike myself, Erick, they don't have access to a financial planner or other things that you and your ilk take for granted.  They don't get health care, dental, or vision through their jobs.  They often cannot afford an automobile so they are at the mercy of their town or city's public transportation system.  They don't have extended time off for maternity leave.  They don't have vacation time.  They often don't have flexibility with their work schedules so they miss important events in their children's lives like PTA meetings, sports games, youth groups, and scout meetings.

In addition, Erick, their housing situation varies greatly from yours.  You see, Erick, many upscale apartment complexes require that income be equal to 2.5 times the month's rent.  For a minimum wage worker that works 160 hours a month, that eliminates any housing complexes where the rent costs more than $464.  I know someone like yourself doesn't apartment hunt often, Erick, but I can assure you that the quality of apartment complexes tends to decrease as the price goes down.  In fact, studies have shown that a two-bedroom apartment is often unaffordable on a minimum wage income.  So Erick, what ends up happening is that these minimum wage workers end up in less than desirable living situations.

Of course, none of this matters.  As you said yourself, Erick, these people end up in these situations because they have failed at life.  I mean, obviously someone who ends up in the situation I just described made some terrible choices along the way.  He or she was probably a high school dropout.  He or she probably did drugs, cheated, or was a gang banger.  Anything that got in the way from them getting a high school diploma.  Even once they got their minimum wage job, they must have continued to fail.  They must have been barely adequate at their job or else they surely would have been promoted.  They must have failed to save money or else they would have been able to resign and go on to other, more lucrative job opportunities.  They must have done something that kept them in such an undesirable position for over a decade.

At least, Erick, that is what your comments would have us believe.

Unfortunately, Erick, the picture I just painted for you couldn't be further from the truth.  You see, Erick, that pictures sounds good to you and your Conservative colleagues because it places the blame squarely in the corner of the minimum wage worker.  It plays into your narrative that with hard work and determination anybody can make it in America.  Those that don't make simply aren't working hard enough.  For you, Erick, these people who make the minimum wage are doing so because, as you so eloquently put it, they have "failed at life."

The truth, Erick, is that the average minimum wage worker has not failed at life.  In fact, often times it can be said that this person is a success.  Not only do they have a job in a country that just experienced its worst recession in eighty years, but they are also remarkably important to their families.  Notice I said families, Erick, as these people have other people in their lives relying on their $7.25 hourly salary.  You should be aware, Erick, that according to the Economic Policy Institute, these workers provide half their family's income, 55% work full-time, 56% are women, and 28% have children.  The average age of a minimum wage worker is 35-years-old and 88% of them are over the age of 20.

In other words, these people are slightly different from what you described, Erick.

But again, I get it, Erick.  You have to keep repeating the lie that these people are failures.  Because if you admit that they're not failures, that they're actually hard-working Americans who are part of a system that exploits them, then that opens a whole can of worms for you and those that share your distorted worldview.  To acknowledge that they are part of that kind of system means that we then have to debate the merits of that system.  Then we have to get into discussions like whether or not unfettered capitalism should be checked, whether multi-billion dollar corporations should be required to provide their employees with proper benefits, and whether minimum wage itself should be linked to inflation and adjusted for the cost of living in each city across the country.

I know, Erick.  Those are discussions that your bosses at simply don't want to have.

Because to have those discussions, Erick, we have to acknowledge facts.  And that, Erick, is something that you refuse to do.  You see, Erick, you spent ten years in Dubai where your father worked for Conoco Oil.  You attended The American School of Dubai before moving back to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with your family when you were fifteen.  You then attended Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where you got your undergraduate degree as well as your law degree.  You then served on the Macon City Council where you pulled a Palin and left before the end of your term to pursue a more lucrative career opportunity by landing a gig on a Conservative radio station in Atlanta.

In other words, Erick, I'm guessing you don't know many minimum wage workers.

Because if you did, Erick, then you'd know what I know.  That these people are good, hard-working individuals who are just trying to make a living.  That there is no such thing as a typical minimum wage worker.  Some, like myself, are starting second careers.  Some are working to support family members they've taken in.  Some are working a second job to support their children.  Some are working to make some money while attending community college.  Some are working as a way to climb the professional ladder.  And all of them, Erick, hope to one day be making more than the minimum wage.

These people have not failed at life.  They have succeeded in spite of it.

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