Speaking in west Louisville this week, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warned that a hike to the minimum wage would hurt job opportunities for racial minorities and younger workers.
Paul made the comments at a roundtable discussion with community and business leaders that his office organized to field questions about his Economic Freedom Zones proposal.
The senator also sided with those in support of bringing a Walmart superstore to city’s West End next year.
“What I will say is 200 jobs even if they pay minimum wage are a lot better than zero jobs that pay zero dollars,” Paul said. “It is a fact, an economic fact, that when you raise the minimum wage the people who are hurt the worst are minorities and kids.”
Raising American worker’s pay from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 is a debate that has taken place throughout Kentucky’s halls of power and political campaigns.
Just as Paul was knocking the idea, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is taking on Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, joined a national bus tour in support of the increase.
Kentucky Jobs With Justice leader Bonafacio Aleman was at the minimum wage rally in Lexington. He told WFPL Paul’s statements reflect the senator is out of touch with average workers.
“It’s just the opposite,” Aleman said. “Minorities and children are helped quite a bit when we raise the minimum wage. We look at some of the studies where cities and states have raised minimum wage laws and there’s no significant job losses.”
“What we hear often are from folks who are not connected to those actually making a minimum wage on a day-to-day basis. Their perspectives are far removed.”
Those at Paul’s roundtable discussion, however, said ending chronic unemployment and economic development is just as important a employee’s pay.
“My thing was is like you said, some jobs are better than no jobs,” retail developer Frank Bridgewaters told Paul.
Bridgewaters is co-owner of the company behind the $25 million Walmart project, which is partially funded by a $1.8 million city grant to purchase additional plots of land. The city is also providing a $500,000 grant to Walmart if the big box retailer meets a threshold of at least 225 new jobs.
“We did have some pushback when we were talking about bringing Walmart to town. We have to start some place, but the opportunity through Walmart to possibly go to school and the things that I’m trying to get Walmart to do are partner with the public colleges so that they can send these guys to get better jobs.”
Paul agreed with Bridgewaters assessment, saying those minimum wage positions aren’t ideal, but that entry level jobs can help people “get the ethic of work.”
“So much of work is showing up and doing a good job. Is it terrible if an adult has to work minimum wage and that’s all they can get, yes,” he said. “We’d like them to get more, but we don’t get more by raising the minimum wage artificially above the market wage. We get less jobs.”