Now to pick up where we left off, looking at the consequences of minimum wage laws. Remember these are guest posts (so to speak) as is explained in Part I. The author of these posts is also the author of the book study guides linked here and in their own tab above.
We are not without recourse, however. We can look at the minimum wage law through the lens of consequential ethics, that is, we can ask ourselves what the actual real life consequences of the law are. Here the analysis is on firmer footing because there is actual statistical data to analyze rather than just emotional anecdotes, and opinion columns from media. The evidence can be allowed to speak for itself and like Socrates advises, we can follow the evidence wherever it leads us. If we can step back from our Postmodern penchant for trusting emotion over reason we may be able to arrive at a disinterested conclusion and formulate a plan for the future (Holy People, Holy Lives: Law and Gospel in Bioethics,Eyer, 2010).
Minimum wage laws have not helped our poorest and most vulnerable populations secure much needed employment. “Most academic economists who’ve studied the minimum wage conclude that higher minimum wages cause unemployment, not so much among the general labor force but among low-skilled workers, especially teenagers” (Williams, 1999, para.1). It has been argued that raising the minimum wage isn’t about helping teenagers get jobs. Teens use their money only for video games and snacks. It is about people like my husband, supporting families. But perhaps people supporting families would be further along if they had had a job as teens.
For teens, it isn’t so much about what they do with their income, although that they just waste it is a hasty and unwarranted generalization. It is not the money so much as ” the lessons learned such as: proper work attitudes, promptness, and respect for supervisors. For youngsters living in dysfunctional homes and attending rotten schools, a job might be their only chance to learn something that will make them more valuable workers in the future” (Williams, 1999, para. 6). One only has to look at the stringent rules for Globe University students to see the lengths society has to go to mend this lack. Skills such as dressing and acting professionally, punctuality, and adherence to schedules now have to be taught to University students who would have learned these things organically had they had a job as teens.
Sadly, the youth in our inner cities who are predominately black are the youngsters Walter Williams describes. Their homes are often dysfunctional; their schools are often rotten. This is not disputed by anyone in America. Their physical safety is daily at risk as the unemployed youth turn to crime and drugs. “Today white teen unemployment is about 20 percent, while that for blacks is about 40 percent and more than 50 percent in some cities” (Williams Article for Jackson Sun, not available online). It might be tempting here to attribute this to racial discrimination but in “1948 when we can hardly defend that there was less racism, the unemployment rate of black 16-year-old and 17-year-old males was 9.4 percent, while that of whites was 10.2 percent”(Williams Article for Jackson Sun, not available online). Minimum wage laws harm black youth disproportionately. They have not learned the lessons that employment can teach them because those kinds of jobs are unavailable.
A recent discussion on the radio regarding the horrific ‘game’ of knock out included two black analysists. The point of the game appears to be attacking unsuspecting white people with a blow from behind which knocks them out. One analyst defended these criminals by suggesting that someone give these poor young men jobs so that they would have skills and a future. Perhaps then they wouldn’t participate in criminal activity. (Hannity, Dec.4, 2013, radio interview). Given his political leanings, it is not unlikely that this man also supports minimum wage laws.
It is as if he, along with the rest of the minimum wage visionaries ignore “[o]ne of the simplest and most fundamental economic principles… that people tend to buy more when the price is lower and less when the price is higher. [They] seem to think that the government can raise the price of labor without reducing the amount of labor that will be hired (Sowell, 2013, para. 2).” It is part of a vision of justice which discounts the real consequences to real people. It is more important for advocates to take a stand on the issue to elevate their own sense of moral superiority. This is more important than “empirical consequences…. however much they may proclaim their love of humanity… the poor or other ostensible beneficiaries of their activities” (Sowell, 2002, pg.105).
Next time in Part IV, we will look at the actual effect of minimum wage on the poor.