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How To Increase Teenage Unemployment, Especially Black Teens

By Peter Burrows

Minimum wage increases are making the news again, as our solons in New Mexico debate taking the state level from $7.50 to $8.50, while the President has trumped that by proposing taking the national level from $7.25 to $9.00. When will they ever learn?

It is especially discouraging to see our first black president advocating such nonsense, as it has long been known that minimum wage laws have had an especially ill effect on black teenage employment, as pointed out way back in 1973 by Nobel winning economist Milton Friedman in his famous Playboy interview.  In that interview, Friedman said that before minimum wages began to rise rapidly in 1956, the unemployment rate for black and white teenagers was “about the same“:

“From that day to this, the (unemployment) rates for both black and white teenagers have been higher than before 1956. ---The black teenage rate has been very much higher than the white teenage rate, for reasons that are highly regrettable and that we ought to be doing something about: Blacks get less schooling and are less skilled than whites. Therefore, the minimum wage rate hits them particularly hard. I’ve often said the minimum wage rate is the most anti-Negro law on the books”.

That was forty years ago. What has changed?  Nothing.  An article last July 11 noted overall unemployment of 8.2%, teenage unemployment of 24%, and black teenage unemployment of 44%.  Jason Riley, a black writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, called Obama’s minimum wage proposal “sadly ironic.”  

Obama, who hasn’t hesitated to bring up race where it may or may not have been important, such as the flap with Professor Gates and the killing of Treyvon Martin, missed an opportunity to raise Hell about a law that has had a devastating impact on black teenagers for over half a century, but, instead, he played to the politics of raising the minimum wage, always a popular move.

He knows the Republicans will go along, because if they don’t, he’ll paint them as being against “the poor“, lackeys of “the rich”, etc.  Plus, on this issue the Republicans are no damned better than the Democrats. The minimum wage was raised in both Bush Presidencies and the Gingrich Congress of 1996. Still, I’ve often wondered why the Republicans have never made the disparate racial impact of minimum wage laws an issue.

I wish somebody would.  This self-inflicted tragedy has been going on way too long.  

The solution to the general problem of teenage unemployment is very simple: Minimum wage laws, since we’re always going to have them, should apply only to full-time workers over the age of 18.  For these under-18 jobs, it would also be nice if all withholdings were waived, e.g. FICA, State Unemployment, etc., which would make it nice and simple for employers to hire kids part-time, and at a higher wage, too.

I think as responsible adults, we owe it to our kids to make getting their first jobs as easy as possible. Early work experiences are as educational, maybe more so, than time spent in the classroom.  I still remember my first job, way back in the ‘50s.  I worked a few hours a week for Milt Cohen, owner of the Walgreen Drug Store. I learned about being on time. I learned about using a squeegee to clean windows.  

I still use a squeegee, and I’m always on time. Two lessons, one trivial, one important, learned a long time ago from a part time job.  

Peter Burrows ©2013

NEXT WEEK: What’s wrong with minimum wage laws? Everything.

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