75% figure accurate

Al Franken loves to repeat this as a supposed example of Rush Limbaugh telling a lie. He probably still looks for opportunities to bring it up.

The following is from his interview with Geov Parrish:

GP: What do you think the differences are between you and Limbaugh?

AF: I’m glad you asked me that. I use this example a lot. A few months ago, Rush was talking about the minimum wage. Conservatives like to portray it that no one has to raise a family on the minimum wage, the only people who get the minimum wage are teenagers who want to buy an i-Pod. So Rush says, “75 percent of all Americans on the minimum wage, my friends, are teenagers on their first job.” And one of the researchers brings this to me, with a smile, and I say, “Well, can you look it up?” And they look it up, the researcher goes to something called the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 60.1 percent of Americans on minimum wage are twenty and above. 39.9 percent, then, are either teenagers or below twelve (laughs). I had several jobs as a teenager, so you figure, what, 13 percent might be teenagers in their first job. Not 75 percent. So where did Rush get his statistic? Well, he got it directly from his butt. It went out his butt, into his mouth, out the microphone, into the air, into the brains of dittoheads. And they believe this stuff. http://www.seattleweekly.com/2005-05-04/news/al-franken-s-sense.php

Okay. Let’s take it slow. According to Franken, Rush said:

“75 percent of all Americans on the minimum wage, my friends, are teenagers on their first job.”

To start with, that is not what Rush said. Franken even went so far as to throw in the words, “my friends,” which gives it that special Rush flair, but this is what Rush actually said (April 29, 2004):

There aren’t families living on the minimum wage anyway; it’s a teenage entry level job for 75% of the people earning minimum wage.

Now that we know what Rush actually said, we should judge it based on what it actually means. “Entry level job” means the lowest level of employment in a job field. It does not mean “their first job”. The misrepresentation would be obvious to anyone who worked their way through college and is now looking for an entry-level job in their field. The word “teenage,” like “entry level,” refers here to the job itself, not to the employee. That is evident in the fact that Rush said “teenage entry level job,” not “teenage entry level employee“. He’s calling them teenage jobs because they are the jobs teens tend to work. His statistic is in reference to the type of job.

Rush never claimed that only teens could work those jobs. Using Franken’s reasoning, if someone reads at a fifth-grade level, they must automatically be in fifth grade. Rush is contrasting the type of jobs that are suitable for teens to work with the type of jobs people rely on to support their family. The argument is about the nature of minimum wage jobs. Franken twists it into a straw-man argument about employee age.

What Rush did say about the nature of the employees was in relation to their obligations (from the same broadcast):

The people that get the minimum wage are not the people Democrats portray them as being — heads of households supporting families of four. It’s not the case. Let’s get real.

Another fact that bolsters his point is that 66% of all minimum-wage earners are part-time. These are not careers. Rush’s point, again, is that heads of household don’t rely on the same types of jobs that are suitable for teens. Still, there are legitimate reasons for people of any age to work a “teenage entry level job” even though they aren’t relying on it to support their family. Some adults may want to supplement their primary income or the primary income of their family. Some people may be supplementing their student loans, supplementing their retirement income or even taking on a job as a hobby.

Furthermore, after someone receives their first raise they are no longer earning minimum wage. Therefore, those who want to make a career on the minimum wage would have to turn down their raises. The ones earning minimum wage are either the new employees in the “teenage entry-level jobs” or anti-raise fanatics.


Let’s explore the data on teenage jobs and see if Rush’s 75% figure holds up. Since Rush made the claim in 2004 (and since Franken has been misquoting him since 2004) I figure 2004 is the apt year to look at. Franken used the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so I will also use BLS data. The stats used are from “employed persons by occupation, sex, and age” and “Employed wage and salary workers paid hourly rates with earnings at or below the prevailing Federal minimum wage by major occupation group, 2004 annual averages”

When we break it down, we see that the primary fields of employment for teens do indeed comprise the overwhelming majority of minimum wage jobs. Conversely, the jobs that teens aren’t working are the jobs that aren’t paying minimum wage.

Let’s look at some examples, to illustrate.

Jobs falling under the occupation category “management, business and financial operations occupations” account for 15.17% of the total workforce. Only a small percent of total minimum wage jobs fall into this category– less than one half of a percent. That’s not a very large share of the minimum wage jobs. If the breakdown is as Rush predicted, we will expect to find a small percentage of the teen workforce in these jobs. Sure enough, there is less than one percent. These are definitely not teenager jobs.

The Breakdown:

0.4% of all minimum wage jobs are in management, business and financial operations occupations (mgmt, b & f)

15.17% of the total workforce is in mgmt, b & f

15.13% of all workers over the age of 20 are in mgmt, b& f

0.9% of all workers ages 16-19 are in mgmt, b&f

So if the teens aren’t in management, business and financial, where are they? Well, the largest single category is “Food preparation and serving related occupations.”

The Breakdown:

28.3% of minimum wage jobs are in food preparation and serving related occupations (food prep & serv )

5.2% of the total workforce is in food prep & serv

4.3% of all workers over the age of 20 are in food prep & serv

24.5% of all workers ages 16-19 are in food prep & serv

With 24.5% of the total teen workforce in food preparation and serving, it is definitely a teenage job. And, again, we see the correlation between that and the presence of the minimum wage.

If you take the top five teenage job categories (food preparation and serving, sales and related, office and administrative support, transportation and material moving, personal care and service), together they count for 75.6% of all minimum wage jobs. That’s the 75%. 74.4% of all teenage workers 16-19 are in these five job categories. Expanding it beyond the top five will yield even higher percentages but the number of teenagers in each category is perhaps too low to justify doing so. Teen workers are spread amongst the following categories, listed as a percentage of the total teen workforce:

Food preparation and serving related (24.5%)

Sales and related (23.2%)

Office and administrative support (13.5%)

Transportation and material moving (7.2%)

Personal care and service (6.1%)

Construction and extraction (4.8%)

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (4.2%)

Production (3.5%)

Farming, fishing and forestry (1.7%)

Protective service (1.7%)

Healthcare support (1.7%)

Education, training and library (1.7%)

Installation, maintenance and repair (1.6%)

Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media (1.4%)

Management occupations (0.7%)

Healthcare practitioner and technical (0.6%)

Community and social services (0.3%)

Computer and mathematical (0.3%)

Life, Physical and social science (0.1%)

Architecture and engineering (0.1%)

Business and financial operations (0.1%)

Legal (0.06%)

Some may feel that defining teenage jobs according to the percentage of the teenage workforce is too simplistic. These people might define a teenage job in terms of a comparison between the percentage of the teen workforce verses the percentage of the 20+ workforce. In other words, teens would have to better represent their total workforce in a category than people over the age of 20 are represented as a percentage of theirs.

Using this standard, there are only a few changes that would take place. Because of an abnormally large number of adult women in “office and administrative support,” the 20+ workforce is very slightly better represented than the teen workforce (14.01% to 13.49%, respectively) so it would no longer be considered a teenage job category. However, the “building and grounds cleaning and maintenance” category (with 4.2% of the teen workforce and only 3.7% of the 20+ workforce) and the “farming, fishing and forestry” category (with 1.7% of the teen workforce and only 0.6% of the 20+ workforce) would count as teenage jobs. That would make six teenage job categories accounting for 71.9% of minimum wage jobs and 66.8% of all teenage workers. If we include the teenage boys that are working in the “office and administrative support” category (teenage males are far better represented than 20+ males in that category), it raises the percentage of minimum wage jobs under the teenage job umbrella to 77.2% and the percentage of the teen workforce to 72.1%.

Either way, the estimate given by Rush holds up.
Franken inaccurately recounted Rush’s argument.