Do As I Say -- Not As I Did

Blog ››› ››› ARI RABIN-HAVT

Responding to yesterday's strike by fast food workers across the country seeking better working conditions and a living wage, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly decided their own stories of working low-wage jobs would do these workers more good.

Limbaugh told his audience about his former job selling tickets for the Kansas City Royals in 1979. That year he was paid $12,000. Limbaugh claimed on that income he "couldn't afford [his] house payment and food." For a family of two -- Limbaugh was married to his first wife at the time -- his income was nearly three times the 1978 baseline federal poverty level of $4,366 and nearly double the poverty line for a family of four, $6,612.

As Limbaugh himself pointed out, his $12,000 salary was the equivalent of $38,610.91 in today's dollars. Currently the poverty threshold for a two-person family sits at $15,510, less than half of Limbaugh's converted salary. The poverty line for a family of four is $23,550. 

The workers Limbaugh was lecturing? Their median yearly salary is $18,500, barely above the poverty line for a family of two and $4,500 below the threshold for a family of four.

Limbaugh's experience in 1979 was vastly different than the one faced by low-wage workers today. Limbaugh concluded by claiming that "life is life and we all have self-determination and Martin Luther King understood it."

One of the demands of the 1963 March on Washington was a $2 per hour minimum wage, which according the Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI inflation calculator is the equivalent of $15.27 in today's dollars -- nearly exactly what the workers going on strike yesterday were demanding. 

Bill O'Reilly began with his story of scooping ice cream for minimum wage in his teenage years. In 1966, when O'Reilly was 17-years old, the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour or $9.01 in today's dollars --  nearly 24 percent more than minimum wage workers currently make -- putting a then-single O'Reilly well above the 1966 poverty line and nearly reaching the threshold for a family of four. Perhaps O'Reilly should return that 24 percent because according to his rant, guaranteeing a wage is "called socialism" and "the USA is a capitalist country."

Limbaugh and O'Reilly are two white men blessed with amazing communications ability. Neither was born wealthy but they were both able to parlay their talents, combined with some luck, into the upper economic echelons. From those heights they look down at the bottom opposing the concept that employers should pay a living wage and at the same time opposing food stamps, public housing, and other programs that would help bridge the gap for low-income workers. They offer no policy solutions other than if you're not making enough to get by, get another job.

From a position of extreme privilege, they point to their lowly beginnings and ask workers to survive on the same incomes they did. If only those who went out on strike yesterday were fortunate enough to receive the modern-day equivalent of the wages they did.

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