One of my biggest pet peeves is when somebody speaks about a subject matter as if they are an expert when, in reality, they do not know the first thing about it. Everybody is guilty of it to an extent, but at least I hope I can realize when I don’t know enough to speak about an issue. I know enough to say that I shouldn’t be speaking about the ins and outs of international relations; I am not well read or studied on the matter. However, there are some people with whom this construct has not set in. One of these people is Peter Schiff.
Schiff was featured on The Daily Show this week on a segment regarding Obama’s State of the Union address. During the address, President Obama spoke about issuing an Executive Order requiring federal workers to pay their federally-funded employees a wage of at least $10.10 per hour. During the Daily Show segment, Schiff expressed some apprehensions about Obama’s executive order and proposed to get rid of the minimum wage as a whole. He goes on to speak about how getting rid of the minimum wage would create jobs and how some people would be happy to work for $2 an hour. That’s where things went south for Schiff.
When asked about which people would be happy working for $2 an hour, he mentioned teenagers working at McDonald’s and the intellectually disabled. He defends this statement in a follow up interview by saying that if an intellectually disabled person could not make a minimum-wage level of output, then employers should not have to pay them minimum wage salaries. He then speaks about how the intellectually disabled tend to enjoy the jobs they have when neurotypical people would find them boring and mundane.
Does Schiff really not see how offensive his comments are? When speaking about intellectually disabled people and employment, he has the arrogance level of Donald Trump and the tactfulness of Archie Bunker. He presumes to know about how intellectually disabled people function within society and assumes that they are either too happy or too naïve to understand or perceive when they are treated unjustly. His remarks also carried a smug, condescending tone that should make anybody uncomfortable even reading them.
So, that is why I am proposing a challenge to Peter Schiff. I would like for him to spend one day with an intellectually disabled person at their workplace and to do the job that person does on a daily basis. We’ll let him feel how demeaning it is to have to come to work to do a menial job where he doesn’t get paid a living wage and where his employer does not appreciate the work that he does. I would hope for him to learn that the work that these people often perform is not easy for anyone to perform. Maybe then, he’ll actually learn what minimum-wage level work actually looks like.
I have had various kinds of jobs in the past. In some of them, I have worked alongside people with intellectual disabilities (and no, that does not make me some sort of hero or martyr). The people I have met are not only capable of performing the tasks they are assigned, they are some of the hardest workers in the place of employment. Their work is not worth less than a neurotypical’s work because of their disability. Many of these individuals live on their own and are responsible for many, if not all, of their finances. If Schiff ever bothered to look, he would see that. But, it is obvious he hasn’t. I believe that any person who works a full work week should be paid a living wage, regardless of ability. Schiff, obviously, does not.
Overall, I feel Schiff’s comments during The Daily Show interview and subsequent follow-up to be ignorant, insensitive, and disgusting. Schiff is not only a man who has no idea about how people with intellectual disabilities live their lives, he also seems to have no idea about what it is like to have to really struggle to make ends meet. Although he understands that people want to work, he does not understand that people want to be able to make enough to get by. For too many people in the United States, this is not the case. I hope one day, Schiff will be able to empathize with people who have to struggle to earn a living or with people who have intellectual disabilities working as hard as they can to survive as well. Until then, he should just close his mouth and listen.
“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”