ThinkProgress sat down with Radtke this past weekend at The Awakening 2011, a gathering of social conservatives held at Liberty University. During the conversation, we discussed the role of the minimum wage in America. Radtke argued that “government setting price controls rather than letting the free market set it I think is a bad policy.” Radtke went on to contend that the “time has come and gone” when women were underpaid, employers were “taking advantage of employees,” and concern about factory conditions was justified. As a result, Radtke agreed that the minimum wage has outlived its usefulness:
RADTKE: I think there’s all sorts of challenges with minimum wage. You are creating a market, you are eliminating an entire market of people that would potentially—who need work. Price controls are never good. And government’s never been good at price controls.Watch it here at NFTOS:
KEYES: Do you think it’s something we can just maybe get rid of?
RADTKE: Well “can we” or “should we”? I mean, you know—
KEYES: Well, either one.
RADTKE: Yeah, I mean—I remember my first job, I was fourteen years old, and I had to get a worker’s permit to go get a job, and I believe that the wage, the minimum wage, was $4.20. Now, there are times when the market will demand more than what minimum wage should be, and then people are being underpaid. And there are times when the market just cannot pay the minimum wage, because you’re in a great recession, but you could employ people, if you could pay them a little less. And those ideas of the government setting price controls rather than letting the free market set it I think is a bad policy.
KEYES: So it might be better to scrap it in favor of just letting the market set whatever the minimum wage should be?
RADTKE: Yeah, I mean, you haven’t seen… There was a time when this effort to set minimum wages was set in, and people didn’t feel that women were getting paid justly, and you had the concern of what was going on in the factories, and employers taking advantage of employees. And we’re not there anymore. That time has come and gone.
KEYES: So, it might have outlived its usefulness?
Radtke’s points are misguided on a number of levels. First, the notion that women’s income doesn’t still lag behind men’s is laughable. Second, Radtke’s argument that we no longer need to concern ourselves with the inner-workings of factories is simply not true, as a recent Los Angeles Times article detailing the conditions for Ikea workers in the United States shows. Finally, Radtke’s point that a minimum wage is counterproductive because “there are times when the market will demand more than what minimum wage should be, and then people are being underpaid” ignores the fact that employers are free to pay higher wages in prosperous times. Nothing in minimum wage laws prevents employees from earning more than the minimum wage.
The federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 per hour. Over the course of a year, a minimum wage worker will earn approximately $14,500, well below the poverty line for a family of four ($22,350) and even below the poverty level for a two-person family ($14,710).