Monday, April 04, 2005

Minimum Wage, Paper Routes, and the Strib

A Star Tribune editorial recently scolded Minnesota for not raising the minimum wage since 1997. My day-job colleague (Trunk from Powerline) suggested that the Strib ought to make a "public statement about the value of work" and pay its delivery carriers better. The newspaper has carefully designated those with paper routes as "independent contractors" since 1997, but continued to provide workers' compensation coverage as recently as 2000.

An article in City Pages (not exactly a friend of the free market) from 2000 describes the compensation for Star Tribune delivery carriers. Calculating the pay on an hourly basis depends on several variables: the fee per newspaper, the length of time it takes to complete a route, the cost of gasoline, and customer complaints that result in fines. A new carrier will presumably take longer to complete a route and will make mistakes that generate more customer fines.

The carrier profiled in the City Pages article receives 18 cents per paper, delivering more than 200 papers on a 34-mile route. After gas and fines, he estimates that he makes "a little more than nine bucks an hour." He finishes his weekday route an hour before the 6:30 a.m. deadline, with papers first available at the depot for pick up starting at 2:00 a.m. This means that fines and gas cost him approximately $5.00 each weekday.

A carrier who has similar fines and a similar route, but who takes the entire 4.5 hours to deliver 200 papers could easily make less than $7.00 per hour for this "thankless and difficult" (quoting the editorial) job.

Admittedly, the numbers probably have changed since the article was written in 2000, particularly the price of gasoline. But it is doubtful that the adult "paperboys" and "papergirls" have received the $1.85 per hour raise advocated by their employer...I mean... independent-contractor-giver.

It remains to be seen whether Governor Pawlenty will borrow a page from Dick Morris and "triangulate" on this issue. Perhaps he should be forced to sign a "no new job killer" pledge in 2006, rather than a tax pledge.

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