During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised that, in contrast to his predecessor, his presidency would be a “science presidency.” In his first year, Obama may well have taken some science more seriously than his predecessor, but one set of settled scientific research he has chosen to ignore has been the economics of the minimum wage. The result has been a nightmare for young workers, especially young workers of color.
Economic theory predicts that raising the minimum wage will cause those employees who are least productive to lose their jobs. If we raise the minimum wage from, say, $6 to $7, it’s the same thing as saying “any worker who cannot produce $7 worth of value each hour is not worth hiring.” Younger workers are, of course, among the least skilled in the economy. In addition, thanks to poor schools and historical discrimination, young workers of color are over-represented in this category. Higher minimum wages should disproportionately affect young workers and especially ones of color.
The empirical evidence to support this theoretical claim is abundant. Hundreds of studies of this relationship have been done by economists and they are nearly unanimous that higher minimum wages are associated with some level of increased unemployment among lower-skilled workers. Whatever consensus there might be among climate scientists about global warming, that among economists about minimum wage laws is at least as great. Despite what the science says, the Obama Administration supported a minimum wage increase last July.
The results are as theory predicts: unemployment among whites age 16-19 is at by far the highest rate in 10 years: 25.3% in October, up 28% from 6 months earlier and 36% from a year ago. Among African-Americans of the same age group, the unemployment rate is an intolerable 41.3%, up 19% from April and up 25% from a year earlier. The Hispanic or Latino youth unemployment rates are 35.6% (October), 26.5% (April), and 28.3% (October 2008).
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