Newby on the Minimum Wage (cont.)


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Back in February, I flagged a blog post by Brian Newby highlighting what he called the “other big news” in the State of the Union address (besides the appointment of the new bipartisan commission) – a proposed increase in the minimum wage. At the time, he noted the potential impact that such an increase would have on many election offices, who rely so heavily on temporary, minimum-wage workers in the run-up to Election Day.

Last week, in response to the nationwide effort by fast-food workers to force an increase in their wages, Brian is back at ElectionDiary with another look at the minimum wage and its impact on election administration.

This time, he’s more interested in what the current wage structure says about how election workers (part- and full-time) are valued and paid across the country:

I have no quarrel with the [fast-food workers’] crusade for $15 an hour.

But it’s worth pointing out what jobs don’t pay that much and then stressing that we actually have staff members who don’t make $15 an hour. Those are full-time staff members, not temporaries, who do most of the heavy lifting at the election office and are our unsung heroes. They are paid comparable to baristas at Starbucks …

[E]lections administrations nationwide consistently make considerably less than their government peers. There are a few factors that are the causes, including the fact that elections historically have been led by women and women, further, historically have been paid less than men for comparable jobs.

Our election workers make $110 for about a 14-hour day ($7.85 an hour) and another $15 for three hours of training. We split that for administrative reasons, though, so, really, they make $125 for 17 hours ($7.35 an hour, 10 cents more per hour than today’s minimum wage).

Brian’s takeaway, which I find persuasive, is that this pay issue suggests that we need to think about what the current wage structure says about the investment we’re making in election administration nationwide:

The real point of this brief post is just to put in context how society values elections compared to other industries. I’m actually not sure society “values” elections in that most people haven’t consciously put a number to it; most of us probably haven’t thought about what hotel desk clerks make, either.

But still, elections, which are the foundation of our free society, are put on at nearly minimum wage. There may have even been a day when being an election worker was easier than working fast-food, but I’m not so sure anymore. I definitely think it’s more stressful to be an election worker than a fast-food employee …

I will give fast-food workers the fact that my clothes don’t smell greasy when coming home from a polling place, so there’s that.

Still, it’s interesting the jobs we conjure when thinking of minimum wage and very few would think of election workers. I often say they are paid just enough to feel guilty for not showing up, which might be the point of the fast-food protests …

As budgets get tighter and demands on election offices grow, it will force a rethink on how we invest in election administration … if elections are subject to the aphorism “you get what you pay for,” we may need to ensure that the value we place on proper functioning of our elections is matched by a comparable and appropriate level of funding.

Thanks, as always, to Brian for his thoughts!

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