[NOTE: I WILL BE ON VACATION THE REST OF THIS WEEK. MY BLOG WILL RETURN ON MONDAY, JULY 13.]
Do you ever read an article and just shake your head as you’re getting through it? That happened to me a couple of days ago when I read an article in the New York Times entitled “It’s Summer, but Where Are the Teenage Workers?” by two reporters (yes, two!) named Patricia Cohen and Ron Lieber.
In their article, Cohen and Lieber point out:
Since 2000, the share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working has plummeted by 40 percent, with fewer than a third of American teenagers in a job last summer. Their share of the overall work force has never been this low, and about 1.1 million of them would like a job but can’t find one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But Cohen and Lieber, along with the “experts,” just can’t figure out the cause of this economic mystery. They write
Experts are struggling to figure out exactly why. “We don’t know to what extent they’re not working because they can’t find a job, or aren’t interested, or are doing other stuff — like going to summer school, traveling, volunteering, doing service learning,” said Martha Ross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a research organization based in Washington.
Wouldn’t you think that Cohen and Lieber would think to go to just one single libertarian think tank or educational foundation to get a clue as to solving this mystery? Surely everyone has heard of libertarianism by now, right?
Well, if they did, you sure can’t tell it from their article because there is not one single mention of minimum-wage laws as the cause of teenage unemployment.
Here at FFF, we have been pointing this out for years: See, for example, this page on FFF’s website.
It’s really not difficult to understand what’s going on here. The minimum wage locks out of the labor market every single person whose labor is valued by employers at less than the mandated minimum. That normally means teenagers, who lack the experience, work skills, clothing, and education to merit the state-mandate minimum wage.
That means that only people whose labor is valued at the mandated minimum are going to be hired. If there are teenagers whose labor is valued at the minimum, they are likely to be the children from well-to-do families. And in fact, Cohen and Lieber document this phenomenon in their article:
What is clear is that those who need a job the most are often the least likely to get one. To a large extent, the higher a household’s income, the more likely a teenager is to get a job. Suburbanites have a better shot than city dwellers, and white teenagers face far better odds than blacks, in part because of disappearing federal support for summer jobs.
In fact, that’s what I pointed out in my February 2014 article “Black Teenagers Should Call for Repealing the Minimum Wage.” Also, see my April 28, 2015, video presentation on the minimum wage in my weekly Internet show, The Libertarian Angle.
Black teenagers have long suffered the most from America’s minimum-wage laws. For years there has been a chronic 30-40 percent unemployment rate among black teenagers.
Imagine that there was no minimum wage. Then, those black teenagers would be free to compete on the basis of price. They could walk into an employer’s office and say, “Okay, I realize that I’m not very marketable yet. See that rich white kid that you’re pay $15 an hour for? I’ll do his job for $5 an hour and I’ll do it well.”
All of a sudden, the employer has a big choice to make. If he’s seeking to maximize his profit, he’ll give the job to the black kid. But if he’s mandated to pay $15 an hour, he’s going to hire the rich white kid every day of the week.
Is it difficult to live off of $5 an hour? Of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that the black kid gets his foot on the lower rung of the economic ladder. He gets a job. He learns work skills. He learns the importance of getting to work on time. He learns about pleasing consumers. He learns the business. He gets experience. He makes himself for valuable to employers. The following year, he asks for $8 an hour.
But with the minimum wage, he’s locked out of the labor market during his formative years.
How then does he make money?
Oh, he goes into the drug trade, where the federal government, with its much-vaunted war on drugs, has enabled people to score big money by breaking the law. Most likely, the kid is busted and sent away to some faraway jail to spend a large portion of his life.
In fact, given the horrific adverse effects on African Americans of the minimum wage and the drug war, the truth is that these two federal programs are nothing more than modern-day Jim Crow laws at the federal level.
Another option is to give teenagers some sort of government job or “training program,” which are not a real jobs at all but simply a make-work projects — sort of like digging holes and filling them back in — or teaching kids how to collect taxes from people in order to give a dole to others.
Or they usually just wait until the teenager reaches adulthood and then put him on welfare, making him dependent on the government for a lifetime of meager benefits and, of course, making him easily able to control.
How important is a summer job for teenagers? Cohen and Lieber write:
A summer job can provide essential experience that is crucial to snagging better jobs later, experts say. Research shows that for every year teenagers work while in high school, income rises an average of 15 percent when they are in their 20s.
Unfortunately, there are all too many people in society who still honestly think that government can create jobs and prosperity by simply passing laws. If that were true, wouldn’t every society be wealthy and prosperous. I mean, any government can pass laws, right?
The issue of the minimum wage is a no-brainer. It doesn’t bring jobs or prosperity. It destroys jobs and prosperity, especially for African-American teenagers.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a mass movement for the repeal of minimum-wage laws, led by black teenagers? I wonder what Cohen and Lieber would say about.