News Story

Schauer, Other Michigan Dems Call For Higher Minimum Wage While Paying Interns Nothing

Economist: Arbitrary wage law hurts workers it claims to help

While Democrats in Michigan are calling for business owners to pay a higher minimum wage, those same politicians are paying their own workers far below that amount.

In fact, some of their workers are paid nothing.

Former Congressman Mark Schauer is running for governor, partially on a platform of increasing the minimum wage 25 percent up to $9.25 per hour. Schauer said in a story on the Huffington Post that mandating higher wages is "simple economics" that "creates demand in the economy."

"It's long overdue," Schauer was quoted as saying in an article on MLive. "At $7.40 an hour, a full-time minimum wage worker earns just $15,392 a year before taxes. We need to raise the minimum wage to $9.25 … because no one working a full-time job should have to live in poverty. It's time to do what's right for our families, our businesses, and our economy by raising the minimum wage."

Yet, on his gubernatorial campaign, as when he was in Congress, Schauer uses unpaid interns.

The political science department at Michigan State University posts information on its website on how to apply for internships for "Mark Schauer For Governor." says there are five part-time, unpaid positions.

And according to information put out when he was in Congress, then-Rep. Schauer offered several full- or part-time internships that were unpaid. Tasks included: "answering phones, processing mail, assisting constituent service representatives with resolving constituent inquiries and problems with government agencies, attending various district events, data entry and various additional clerical support assistance for members of the staff."

The Schauer campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Using unpaid interns in politics is not unique among Democrats, and Gov. Rick Snyder and some legislative Republicans have used them, but thus far, the GOP in Michigan have not gone on record as supporting or actively promoting a higher minimum wage.

In 2010, under directives from the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it was cracking down on unpaid internships offered by businesses. The department has not gone after non-paying internships offered by non-profits, politicians or government agencies.

From President Obama down to local Democrats, calls for a higher minimum wage have become a popular campaign issue this election year. Unions and other left-leaning groups are pushing a ballot proposal in Michigan, in what many see as a get-out-the-vote effort.

Lon Johnson, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a recent statement, "Democrats at all levels are fighting to increase the minimum wage because we believe that people who work hard and play by the rules deserve a fair shot at supporting themselves and their families."

But that doesn't include doing so inside the Democratic caucus. The Michigan Democratic Party has unpaid positions open working part-time 10-20 hours per week, or full-time 20-30 hours per week. And the Michigan Senate Democrats, in a jobs postings category on its website, is advertising for research intern positions that are unpaid. College credit and carpooling may be available, the site says.

Schauer isn't the only Democrat vying for election or in office calling for higher mandated wages for the private sector while neglecting to pay their own workers.

Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, are all sponsoring separate bills that would make it illegal for businesses to employ people for less than a set amount. The minimum wage in the state would be increased to $9 or $10 per hour for full- or part-time workers at businesses.

But each of these politicians also are looking for employees who will get paid $0 per hour for their work (see the positions here and here). It appears that most or all of the Democratic caucus have interns to which they do not offer a salary. See a listing here.

None of these politicians returned a request for comment on the issue.

Michael LaFaive, the director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, called this practice a "double standard." He said workers see jobs as a way to gain money or experience to set themselves up for success in the future, whether done for a politician, a non-profit organization, or a for-profit business.

"There is little actual difference between a person willing to accept a wage below some legal mandate and an intern willing to take $0 in exchange for work experience," he said. "Why should politicians force anyone in the private sector to forgo such a voluntary relationship if they are willing to be party to such a transaction themselves?"

LaFaive also pointed out that offering no wages limits the pool of applicants to those who can afford to work for no salary. And since the only benefit offered besides experience is college credit, young people not attending university are less likely to apply.

"What makes the politicians' hypocrisy all the more rank is that their free labor may already be stacked with advantages, such as the direct financial support of loving parents and formal university training," LaFaive added. "At a minimum, it makes the minimum wage mandate foisted on poor workers with little access to college all the more elitist and wrong."

Antony Davies, an economics professor at Duquesne University, said the bulk of the evidence suggests that government wage mandates are harmful.

"The minimum wage is our national game of musical chairs," Davies said. "As the minimum rises, lesser educated workers are priced out of the job market. Their empty jobs go to better educated workers and to machines. Raising the minimum wage doesn't make workers more valuable, it makes them more expensive."

A Michigan Capitol Confidential article from 2010 showed that all nine of Michigan's congressional delegation who supported an increase in the minimum wage had unpaid interns. A new report from the Employment Policies Institute shows that 96 percent of the congressional sponsors of a new law that would increase the federal wage floor do not pay their interns.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.