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A lesson on the value of inflation

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) appeared on MSNBC yesterday and ruled out a minimum-wage increase because, as she sees it, the policy would rule out teenagers hoping to enter the workforce. Chuck Todd presented a compromise: a higher minimum wage for adults, and a lower apprentice wage for minors. The conservative lawmaker said she'd be "thoughtful" if such a bill were proposed, but added a curious anecdote.

For those who can't watch clips online, Blackburn said:

"What we're hearing from moms and from school teachers is that there needs to be a lower entry level, so that you can get 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds into the process. Chuck, I remember my first job, when I was working in a retail store, growing up down there in Laurel, Mississippi. I was making like $2.15 an hour. And I was being taught how to responsibly handle those customer interactions. And I appreciated that opportunity."

I'm sure she did, but there's a problem with her argument. As Travis Waldron explained, when Blackburn made "like $2.15 an hour" when she was younger, that's not the same thing as earning "like $2.15 an hour" now. In fact, in inflation-adjusted dollars, when Blackburn was learning how to be a responsible worker "growing up down there in Laurel, Mississippi," she was making "somewhere between $12.72 and $14.18 an hour in today's dollars."

Blackburn may not fully understand the policy details here, so let's make this simple. She thinks a $9 minimum wage would keep younger Americans out of the workforce, but when she had her first job, the minimum wage, in today's dollars, was $10.56. The GOP lawmaker made about a half-dollar more per hour than the legal minimum, though she gives the impression that $2.15 an hour, at the time, was a character-building exercise.

Blackburn, in other words, is inadvertently arguing for a significant increase to the minimum wage -- even larger than what Democrats have in mind -- while claiming she opposes an increase to the minimum wage.