How politicians threw teens and the poor out of work out of compassion for teens and the poor

In 2009, I warned:

So in two years, the federal minimum wage has been increased by nearly 41 percent. Such a massive increase in the price of low-skilled labor will lead to much fewer jobs for low-skill workers, the poorest among us. Demand curves slope downwards.

Not that I used any particular gift of prophecy. It is, after all, one of the propositions about which nearly all economists agree, that “A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers.” So my warning (which I updated on occasion) was less Nostradamus and more Cassandra again. Alas.

MSNBC reports today that “A teen with a job becomes a rarity in U.S. economy.” A few snippets:

Only about 25 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds currently are working, a drop of 10 percentage points from just five years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The percentage of teenagers who have jobs, expressed as the ratio of employment to population, hovered between 40 and 50 percent for much of the 1980s and 1990s. The percentage began dropping about a decade ago, but the declines have been especially steep since the beginning of the Great Recession in late 2007.

An especially steep decline since … 2007. When there was an especially steep increase in the wage floor, along with the onset of a recession.

The job market is unquestionably difficult for all teens, but experts say it’s especially hard for those who may need the money most: Teens from poor families and families in which a parent is out of work. …

Algernon Austin, director of the race, ethnicity and the economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, last year analyzed 2009 data on teens who were not attending school.

He found that 16- to 19- year-olds from poor families, whose income was below the poverty line, were less likely to be working than teens whose families had more money. That was true regardless of race or ethnicity.

Maddeningly, the article doesn’t mention the minimum wage at all, which just goes to underscore how even consensus positions among economists can be completely overlooked amid a conventional wisdom and media environment that are averse to economic literacy.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

Reader Comments