Marco Rubio Says You Can’t Live on $10/Hr, So…What? People Just Die?

marco rubio minimum wage

Marco Rubio: Thirsty for jobs that pay more

At a campaign event back in October, Marco Rubio said something that is factually accurate: That poverty wages simply are not enough to support a family.

“I have full confidence that the American private sector…won’t just create millions of jobs. They’ll create millions of jobs that pay more,” he said, standing in a backyard in (according to the clip) Portsmouth. “Because even the jobs that are being created now don’t pay enough. You can’t live on $10 an hour! You can’t live $11 an hour! We need to create jobs that pay much more than that. But we have to have an economy and economic policy that make America the best place in the world to create jobs that pay more.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s go point by point:

  • Marco Rubio believes that the private sector, not the government, should be creating jobs and spreading wealth, even though he’s often said that a tax credit is the best way to put more money in the pockets of Americans.
  • Marco Rubio doesn’t like the jobs that are being created now, even though he’s very much a believer that the economy is a game of straight supply-and-demand and thus, theoretically should believe that the jobs being created are the ones that are most in demand.
  • Marco Rubio admits that the minimum wage—well below $10 or $11 in all states—is not enough to live on, and yet, does not suggest what to do about that.
  • Marco Rubio wants people to be paid more than $11 per hour, but somehow refuses to admit that a quick way to do that is to raise the minimum wage.
  • Marco Rubio says that to pay people more, we need to have “an economy and economic policy” that would favor job creators, though he fails to quite put together that a good way to do that is to, again, give more purchasing power to people who spend their money with job creators.

In this address, he admits that the minimum wage is not enough to live on, which forces the question: Who does he think works for the minimum wage?

People who…are not alive? People who don’t need to live on those wages?

Perhaps, like a lot of misinformed people, Rubio believes that the minimum wage is not for people who need to survive on it, i.e., it is just for teenagers. If so, that could be a major problem; BLS numbers showing that more than 3.3 million Americans earn at or below the Federal minimum wage, and Census data demonstrates that the US has the lowest percentage of teenagers we’ve ever had. If minimum wage jobs really are just for those who don’t have a family to support, we may actually not have enough of a workforce to keep it afloat.

Or, perhaps Rubio is just perfectly ok with a caste system, wherein some people get to live and others do not. After all, he’s previously stated that the best way to raise wages is to “make America the best place in the world to start a business”—but of course, in suggesting this, he’s stating that business owners deserve a living wage, but their employees, who would ostensibly be pulling down make wages of $10 or $11 per hour do not.

Rubio’s statements echo those of fellow Republican Paul Ryan, who delivered his first major policy address as Speaker of the House earlier this month, and focused almost entirely on poverty and income inequality. And, much like Rubio, he got oh-so-close to actually admitting that increasing the minimum wage could actually be the best possible thing for the economy…but he, too, couldn’t quite get there.

Writing for the Nation, Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach explained it pretty concisely:

As Speaker Ryan so eloquently points out, our minimum wage is a poverty wage and not nearly enough for working parents to support their families, leaving many with no choice but to turn to public assistance to make ends meet.

“So say you’re a single mom with one kid. You’re making minimum wage. You’re on food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other assistance.”

So, by raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 as the Murray-Scott bill would do, not only would 35 million Americans get a raise, but we would also save nearly $53 billion over the next 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program alone.

Unfortunately, Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times since he’s been in office.

Because here is what is becoming extremely clear about the Republican party: They can see the issue (which is that people simply are not earning enough money), but for some reason they can’t seem to just say the words:

We could solve these problems by ensuring that all workers receive a wage that is economically feasible.

The GOP loves to tout the private sector and decry the use of social services by people living in poverty, but it’s the private sector’s unwillingness to pay its workers enough to purchase basic necessities—like a one-bedroom apartment, which the minimum wage can’t cover in any state—that results in the reliance on social services. Republican presidential hopefuls talk a big game about “creating jobs” and “pushing up wages,” but can’t quite follow the end of that thought to “if people had more money, demand for goods and services would increase.”

There seems to be some cognitive dissonance that exists right in the way of drawing these conclusions. What is it?

marco rubio minimum wage

I tried to do some scratch math but was unable.

Could it be that their major donors are the exact members of the private sector who are posting record high CEO pay while paying their workers a wage that all but requires them to rely on food assistance and other social services? That would certainly make sense statistically; in an article for Salon, Sean McElwee points to the fact that while plenty of GOP voters actually do support raising the minimum wage, it’s the donors who do not.

“A whopping 63 percent of Republican non-donors support a higher minimum wage, compared to only 32 percent of donors who gave more than $1,000,” McElwee notes—indicating that conservatives who are struggling, who don’t have $1,000 or more to give, really do believe in higher wages, while those with means are hoping to keep their money by railing against redistribution.

Or is it just that all of these men are so bound by the ideas of trickle-down economics that they legitimately do not see the fact that it’s not working?

Because that’s exactly what Rubio, Ryan, and their ilk are saying when they make these claims about the needs to “create jobs that pay more”—they are saying that our current system, a system where the minimum wage has neither kept up with inflation or productivity, but where tax cuts for the wealthy are tipping the scales, isn’t doing what they want it to do.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a reporter in Seattle. Her writing about the economy and politics has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, Salon, Fast Company, and elsewhere.